For over a decade, pregnant women in Fort Nelson, B.C. have been advised to leave town at least a month before their due date because of a lack of resources to properly care for them.
The hospital’s maternity ward was shut down permanently in 2012, but even before then care was frequently suspended when staff were unavailable to provide emergency caesarean sections or other services.
When Seanah Roper, a Fort Nelson resident found out she was pregnant with her first child, she was excited. She said,”I went in and they did the prenatal and they weighed me and took my blood pressure and all those things.”
Then came the reminder of where she lives.”They made me sign a paper that says I can’t have my baby here.”
That means women like Roper have to travel at least 380 kilometres to Fort St. John for care, taking time away from work and family and racking up thousands of dollars in hotel bills while they wait to go into labour.
While Roper plans to stay with family in Grande Prairie, Alta., she realizes not everyone has that option.
“We have pretty vulnerable families facing some pretty serious challenges,” she explained, adding that her role as Executive Director of the Fort Nelson Community Literacy Society puts her into contact with people struggling financially during the region’s economic downturn.
It cost Mike Payne and his wife nearly $10,000 to pay for food and a hotel room in the weeks leading up to the birth of their son in 2012.The expense almost completely wiped out their savings, so during their second pregnancy Payne invested in an RV(Recreational Vehicle) to live in while staying in Fort St. John.
City councillor Todd Pearce said the slow pace of movement on the file has been frustrating him, as well.He said, “My daughter, last December, had to move out of Fort Nelson for three months [during a pregnancy].”
He added, “We had to rent an apartment … it turned into a pretty costly venture on our end.”
Pearce said he feels Fort Nelson isn’t being treated as a priority by Northern Health or the province.
“It just seems like it’s fallen on deaf ears,” he said.