Expectant mothers in Yarmouth, N.S. are sounding alarm bells after a local hospital issued a notice warning that women in labour may be turned away due to a shortage of anesthesiologists.
A letter handed out to patients at Yarmouth Regional Hospital’s prenatal clinic explains that women who believe they are in labour or need emergency care should contact the hospital prior to arrival.
In the event that an anesthesiologist isn’t available, the expectant mother may be instructed to seek care at a neighbouring hospital, two of which are more than two hours away.
“Due to a shortage of anesthesiologists, there may be times over the next few months when it will not be possible to deliver babies, or perform some surgeries at Yarmouth Regional Hospital,” reads the letter provided to CTV News.
“In order to ensure the safety of both mother and baby, we must be ready to perform an emergency C-section or surgery. In order to perform this type of surgery safely, an anesthesiologist must be available.”
The hospital, which serves three counties at the southwestern end of Nova Scotia, lost one anesthesiologist last fall and another two in March, resulting in a lack of coverage for surgical cases.
“I knew we were having a problem with the anesthesiologists, but I never considered that would prevent me from delivering at my local hospital,” Yarmouth resident Brianne Gowman, who is 29 weeks pregnant, told CTVNews.ca.
The situation is particularly worrying for Gowman who experienced fast labour with her first two children, one of which resulted in an accidental home birth.
“Luckily we have a doula who will come with us. So if we call and we can’t deliver [at Yarmouth], the doula will come in the car with us to the other hospital they send us to,” said Gowman.
“But the next closest hospital would be in Bridgewater which is about a two-hour drive, depending on traffic.”
The letter provided to expectant mothers lists two alternate hospitals in the event that an anesthesiologist is unavailable. The first, South Shore Regional Hospital in Bridgewater, is a two- to three-hour drive from Yarmouth. The second, Valley Regional Hospital in Kentville, is about a two-hour drive.
For mothers like Gowman concerned about complications during labour, the possibility of commuting to another hospital is particularly worrying.
On Wednesday, another local mother shared an emotional plea in a letter addressed to Nova Scotia Minister of Health Randy Delorey.
In the public Facebook post, Caroline King said the situation at Yarmouth Regional Hospital has reignited her anxiety associated with hospitals after losing her 16-month old daughter to surgical complications.
“This is terrifying and unacceptable,” reads the post. “I’ve spent the last few months preparing myself mentally for delivery in Yarmouth, getting comfortable with the staff and spending time in the labor and delivery rooms in hope this would reduce my panic when it comes time for this baby to be born.”
In a statement to CTV News, a spokesperson for the Nova Scotia Health Authority said the hospital has anesthesiologist coverage for “emergency circumstances” until mid-May and is working to secure coverage for upcoming months.
“We are currently working through the process with two interested candidates, one whose start date is imminent,” read the statement.
“There may be times over the next few months when it may not be possible to deliver babies, or perform some surgeries at Yarmouth Hospital because anesthesiologist support is not available. We hope this won’t happen, but we need to plan and inform our patients of the possibility.”
Patients of Yarmouth’s prenatal clinic are still encouraged come to the hospital for obstetrical consultations, ultrasounds, and prenatal appointments.