January 25th, 2022

Maternity clinic negotiations fail, closing in July

By GILLIAN SLADE on January 5, 2021.

The Medicine Hat Family Medicine Maternity Clinic will close in July after negotiations to continue the service fail. Dr. Gerry Prince, lead physician at FMMC, stands in the clinic which is currently located in the ambulatory care wing of the Medicine Hat Regional Hospital.--SUBMITTED PHOTO


Negotiations have failed to keep the local maternity clinic open and it will wind up operations by July, says the physician in charge.

In early September, Dr. Gerry Prince, lead physician, announced that the Medicine Hat Family Medicine Maternity Clinic would cease to function in April 2021. Alberta Health Services and FMMC physicians then extended the closing date to July while trying to develop a future delivery model for obstetrical services. Health Minister Tyler Shandro was also prepared to look at an alternate funding plan.

None of those avenues have been successful, said Prince.

Medicine Hat and Brooks are unique in having maternity clinics in addition to labour and delivery services.

The FMMC located in the new ambulatory care wing of Medicine Hat Regional Hospital opened 17 years ago because of a shortage of doctors doing obstetrics locally. Those unique circumstances are not easily understood anymore.

“I think that’s a big part of the problem and that was the message that AHS has given,” said Prince. “We are different.”

Having enough doctors in the Medicine Hat and Brooks area to handle obstetrics care is still an issue, said Prince. Other areas may have enough family doctors to allow five or six to devote their time to just obstetrics.

“All of our maternity clinic doctors also are servicing the community (as family doctors),” said Prince.

The Palliser Primary Care Network used to fund 80 per cent of the clinic’s expenses. That has been withdrawn and AHS asked FMMC doctors to pay rent, utilities and staff for the space in the hospital. Doctors determined it would cost more than they bill for their services and it’s also not feasible to operate in another building away from the hospital, said Prince.

MHRH will continue to provide labour and delivery services only.

Prince says there do not appear to be any plans to use the current FMMC space in the hospital for something else.

FMMC has been taking care of about half of the baby deliveries in Medicine Hat for a total of 500 to 600 annually. This equates to 9,000 prenatal visits in the FMMC each year.

Prince says the clinic was built on an ideal model to provide streamlined efficient care, and the benefits of having a “maternity medical home” had been proven. That is what Medicine Hat has now lost, he says.

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