Politicians at odds over Winnipeg Birth Centre targets, costs

A facility that appears to be under-delivering on promised quotas is at the centre of opposing views by Conservative and NDP politicians.

The Birth Centre – Women’s Health Clinic on St. Mary’s Road provides maternity and birthing services for women in the care of a midwife.

The centre opened in 2011. The goal at the time was to reach 500 births per year, but that has never been reached.

So far this year there have been 205 births.

Manitoba’s Health Minister questions whether the initial target set seven years ago was achievable.

“In the research that we’ve done we’ve questioned the extent of evidence that even guided those initial statements,” Cameron Friesen said.

“You talk to midwives now and those who run the clinic and they say there simply isn’t the demand to ever run to 500.”

The $3.5 million facility, with $2.6 million in annual operating costs is host to 15 midwives.

“We’ve asked questions whether that particular investment, millions of dollars in operating, millions of dollars in initial capital to invest in a stand alone centre is the best investment we could make,” Friesen said.

The centre was opened when the NDP were running the province.

NDP MLA Nahanni Fontaine says that goal could be achievable if there was more funding for midwives.

“I would suspect that we could get up to those numbers if we had the infrastructure. But we don’t,” she said.

“If you don’t have midwives, how do you have women who want those birthing services?”

For comparison, Global News spoke to the Ottawa Birth and Wellness Centre. They have 50 midwives and have delivered just over 250 newborns this year.

Friesen says recruiting candidates is difficult.

“Procuring more midwives in Manitoba has been a challenge for a long, long time. This has to do with recognizing credentials for those who have been trained outside our jurisdiction as well as seats to train in our jurisdiction,” he said.

“We know there’s Manitobans who want these services. They want a more natural environment for the birth of their child… we see tremendous value in this model so we will continue to say ‘how will we do it?’ and ‘where shall we do it?’”

Back in 2016, Winnipeg midwives organized a protest, saying more midwives were needed in the province.

At the time there were around 50 and they said the target should be 200. Connecting with a midwife is still a challenge.

A group of new mothers gathered at a mommy support group at the Nest Family Centre in Winnipeg on Wednesday.

Holly Hjartarson said she tried to get a midwife when she was about seven weeks pregnant with her son Beckett.

“I just think that they were full. They didn’t have a lot of midwifes available,” she said. “It might be something that we try with the next one.”

The idea of having the support while you give birth is a reason Engela McGillivrey said she would be interested if she had another child.

“I thought about a midwife for the personal aspect of it. Having someone who you know and who you’ve worked with before the birth and who you’re comfortable with and kind of acting like an advocate for you too,” she said.

New mom Marianna Analiya said it’s also something she thinks would have been helpful for other new mothers.

“I heard it was a really good experience and always having someone there and answering questions and stuff and having someone at the hospital with you so that would be very interesting,” she said.

Births per year at the Winnipeg Birth Centre:

2011: 6
2012: 120
2013: 126
2014: 149
2015: 154
2016: 190
2017: 189

The Birth Centre website states they are offer services for women who are “healthy and having a normal and uncomplicated pregnancy”.

Pregnant women who are considered high risk, including those who are older, who have a history of complications or are having twins, as well as women who are in the care of an obstetrician, would be referred to the Health Sciences Centre or St. Boniface Hospital.

The Birth Centre offers additional services, such as parenting education, clinical facilities and meetings spaces, and includes a staff of birth centre assistants, health educators, counsellors and administrative employees.

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