VICTORIA— The B.C. Liberal government’s failure to properly resource rural healthcare is forcing expectant mothers in small communities across the province to leave home, and in some cases pay out of pocket to live in another city for up to a month before giving birth, say New Democrats.
“Kevin Falcon and George Abbott are both trying to claim that if they were premier things would improve for rural British Columbians, but the sad truth is neither improved the situation for expectant mothers in small rural communities,” said Scott Fraser, the New Democrat MLA for Alberni-Pacific Rim. “The hospital in Tofino stopped delivering babies while Mr. Abbott was health minister. Unfortunately, Mr. Falcon failed to improve the situation.”
North Coast MLA Gary Coons noted the situation is particularly dire in central coast communities like Bella Coola, where expectant mothers are advised to leave their communities up to a month in advance of their due date.
“Families in Bella Coola are expected to finance a one month stay away from home if they want to have a baby. This is a significant hardship for families, many of whom are not financially well off to begin with,” said Coons. “If Mr. Abbott and Mr. Falcon actually cared about rural British Columbia we would have more health care in the heartlands. Instead, we have empty ambulance stations and half-time hospitals.”
Since 2000, hospitals in more than 20 communities stopped offering routine deliveries, including the communities of Alert Bay, Ashcroft, Bella Bella, Bella Coola, Burns Lake, Castlegar, Clearwater, Grand Forks, Kimberley, Lytton, Merritt, Oliver, Port Hardy, Princeton, Sparwood, and Summerland.
“Rural British Columbians deserve better – in many cases the birth rate is increasing, not decreasing, in these communities,” said Coons. “Yet the B.C. Liberals continue to act as if rural communities don’t deserve reasonable access to basic health services.”
“The loss of maternity wards in small communities across the province is more evidence of the B.C. Liberal government’s broken promise to protect health care,” said New Democrat health critic, Sue Hammell. “By claiming to care about rural British Columbia after stripping communities of these services, Mr. Falcon and Mr. Abbott are proving that, like the rest of the B.C. Liberals, they only care about rural communities when they’re looking for votes.”
Many of the communities which have lost maternity units also serve as population hubs and service centres for surrounding First Nations communities.
“As the former minister for aboriginal relations, George Abbott should know that having to travel long distances to give birth imposes financial and emotional hardships on many First Nations families,” said Fraser. “It is already a long trip from Ahousat to Tofino – now, because Mr. Abbott failed to take action while he was health minister – many families have to travel even further.”