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Health authority reverses decision to close B.C. hospital maternity ward

Fraser Health had planned to close Peace Arch Hospital ward for 3 months, starting Jan. 28
A protest of about 75 people gathered at Peace Arch Hospital Thursday to show the community’s frustration with a Fraser Health decision to temporarily close the maternity ward. The decision was reversed later Thursday. (Aaron Hinks photo)

The decision to temporarily close the maternity department at Peace Arch Hospital has been reversed.

The announcement from Fraser Health came during a media call on Thursday afternoon, and will “ensure that expectant individuals who have pre-existing plans to deliver their babies at the hospital will be able to see those plans though with only sporadic single-day diversions and only when necessary.”

Fraser Health president and CEO Dr. Victoria Lee also confirmed a long-term commitment to pediatric care at the hospital – a gap in pediatric coverage had been cited as the principal reason for the plan to divert expectant mothers from Peace Arch Hospital to Langley Memorial.

An “alternative payment model” – involving funding from the provincial government – has been implemented in order to increase pediatric staffing at the hospital, she said, and services are also being expanded to support a Pediatric Rapid Access Clinic there.

“We are absolutely committed to doing everything we can to (see these services) continue,” she said.

The closure of the maternity ward – which was announced by the health authority via news release at 5:45 p.m. last Friday – was to be for a three-month period beginning Jan. 28, but in the days since the announcement, both Fraser Health and the provincial ministry of health faced significant backlash from a variety of groups.

A protest against the planned closure was held near Peace Arch Hospital earlier today.

Until Thursday’s media event, Fraser Health had declined interview requests on the matter.

During the media call, Lee emphasized that the maternity unit at Peace Arch Hospital “is fully funded and remains fully funded.”

She said that calling for a temporary diversion of maternity services to Langley was “not an easy decision,” but had ultimately been made to ensure the safety of expectant mothers and their babies.

Pediatricians are essential to the maternity process, she noted, particularly for high-risk pregnancies, and in case of birth complications.

Dr. Darren Lazare, co-program medical director of the maternal infant child youth program, said that the pediatric requirement at the hospital is currently for five full-time-equivalent positions. While seven pediatricians work at the hospital, they are not all full-time, he added.

But Lee said that, following an agreement with the pediatrics group, “scheduling has stabilized” so there was no longer need for an extended diversion.

Lazare said a “salary-type” alternative payment plan would make it more attractive, going forward, for pediatricians to work with the maternity ward.

Lee and Lazare said all partners are committed to working towards safe maternity services at Peace Arch Hospital with no disruption, while Fraser Health continues “aggressive” recruitment efforts to bring more pediatricians to the hospital.

They thanked all partner groups – and the community at large – for continued support for maternity and pediatric services at Peace Arch Hospital.

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