By GILLIAN SLADE on October 16, 2020.
After 17 years the maternity clinic at Medicine Hat Regional Hospital has come to an end.
Patients not registered at the maternity clinic by the end of the month will no longer have that option, says Dr. Gerry Prince, who was instrumental in the establishment of the clinic. Those already working with the clinic will receive services through to when their babies are delivered.
Prince says Alberta Health Services informed them that if the clinic was to continue it would have to be funded by physicians.
“Rent the space, pay the utilities and pay the staff, which amounts to a lot more than we actually bill out of the clinic in a year,” said Prince. “That was a definite, ‘no’.”
None of the physicians connected with the clinic were prepared to continue under those conditions.
“It was unanimous (among the eight physicians in the clinic). It can’t work financially.”
Last month Prince revealed that previously the Palliser Primary Care Network had covered 80 per cent of the clinic’s budget. The provincial mandate for the PCN changed and funding shifted more onto AHS directly.
The maternity clinic handles about half the baby deliveries in Medicine Hat for a total of 500 to 600 annually, which means 6,000 to 9,000 prenatal visits each year.
Most doctors do not deliver babies while some can provide the care up to a point. Liability means many can provide prenatal care to about 20 weeks, said Prince.
He says the maternity clinic had been built on an ideal model to provide streamlined efficient care to patients.
“To step back into the turmoil … is a tremendous disservice to the community.”
AHS did not respond to a request for comment before deadline.
Prince first expressed concern about the longevity of the clinic after Alberta Health announced changes to fees that physicians could bill for.
“That was just the tip of the iceberg,” said Prince.
All the physicians involved do so because they enjoy the work, he said.
“It seems like AHS thinks we do it because we can make big bucks. It does not work that way.”
Recent research about the benefits of having a “maternity medical home” backs up what the hospital’s maternity clinic was all about, he said. There are gaps in service for pregnant women that aren’t met in the general community.
Many regions are clamouring to keep family doctors that provide obstetric service but the “government is determined to drive doctors out,” said Prince.
While AHS appears to believe obstetricians can assume the prenatal care no longer available at the clinic, Prince says he does not believe they will manage the additional load. Prince believes the clinic’s closure could lead to a local crisis.
A survey of current local physicians has indicated that only a third are interested in taking on prenatal services, he said.