November 30, 2001
Midwife Samantha Schuster stands next to a scale that's used to weigh babies at the birthing centre

Midwives worry birthing centre is short-staffed

Health officials say centre isn't in crisis.


RANKIN INLET - In 10 days time, Samantha Schuster will be the sole midwife working at a birthing centre that serves pregnant women from all over the Kivalliq region.

The only other midwife at the centre is going on a scheduled four-month leave starting Dec. 10. So far, the Nunavut health department hasn't found a replacement midwife to assist Schuster.

Schuster says the situation will make for a tough time for her and the women in need of her care.

Her employer, the Nunavut Health Department, denies those claims. They say Schuster won't be on her own because doctors and nurses from the Rankin Inlet health centre will be there to assist with the deliveries.

In an interview at the Rankin Inlet-based centre, Schuster said she's not looking forward to Dec. 10 when it will be just her and a maternity care worker remaining.

She said she's worried about the workload. Besides having to examine women at the clinic, doing post-natal check-ups on mothers and their new babies, teaching new mothers about breast-feeding and nutrition, Schuster will also be delivering babies.

"I feel the expectation is that we have to continue to run a regional birthing centre with just one midwife," Schuster said.

But Keith Best, the government's assistant deputy minister of health, said the situation isn't as drastic as she claims. He said that talk of the birthing centre being in jeopardy is unfounded.

"There's no crisis. We don't have a crisis at the birthing centre," Best said.

He said a group of health officials are in Windsor, Ont., this week to recruit nurses and midwives to the region.

"We're trying to get a replacement midwife so that we can continue the same level of service in a consistent way," he said.

Even if they don't have a replacement midwife by Dec. 10, Best said the centre won't be in any way jeopardized.

He said they'll just run things differently. For instance, they will have nurses and physicians from the community's health centre work with Schuster during the births.

"We'll still be able to provide the service. It just might be provided with a midwife and a physician, a midwife and a nurse, or a midwife-physician-nurse team," Best said.

"There's really no expectation on the staff at the birthing centre to work on their own."

Midwife worried

Schuster said she believes the centre is in a staffing crunch. When she came onboard the birthing centre in August 2000 there were a total of three midwives on the job.

Then one midwife left unexpectedly earlier this year, and now the other one is taking a leave of absence in 10 days.
The health department, as of Nov. 27, still hadn't found another midwife to fill in.

Sitting at a table in a bright, small office, Schuster talked about her frustrations, as the other midwife and maternity care worker filled out patients' charts.

She said she doesn't like the idea of not having another midwife to assist in the delivery room or help out in the clinic.

"I'm worried about working on call for four months straight," Schuster said. "I'm concerned about being up all night with a birth and then having to do clinical work first thing the next morning."

Centre needs local midwives

The midwives and the maternity care worker said there wouldn't be a staffing crunch if a midwifery training program was in place.

Nowyah Williams, the centre's only Inuk maternity care worker, said more Inuit women need to be trained as midwives.

Because there hasn't been any midwifery training at the centre, Williams is considered a maternity care worker - even though she said she does the work of a certified midwife.

It's a personal issue for Williams, who shadowed the other midwives in the hopes of becoming certified.

"This is my baby," she said of the birthing centre. "It's very close to my heart. I want to see a training program here."

Best said the GN backs the idea of training local women, but there's no real indication when or how the health department will set up a program.