Innisfail loses obstetrics service

Delivering babies is no longer a service Innisfail doctors will provide, except for emergency deliveries.

Delivering babies is no longer a service Innisfail doctors will provide, except for emergency deliveries.

Out of the 10 doctors in town, only three doctors did deliveries and shared on-call duty.

Innisfail physician Dr. Greg Van Wyk said without more doctors delivering, it was too difficult to continue providing the service.

“Your lifestyle is severely impaired because you have to be available 24/7 when you’re on duty,” Van Wyk said on Friday.

“(Doctors) are unable, unwilling, or both, to give that amount of time and sacrifice for the services that are expected.”

Deliveries officially ended on Thursday and Van Wyk delivered the last baby that day.

“This lady, was perfect timing,” said the doctor who has been delivering babies for 20 years.

And he’s going to miss it.

“There is some sadness for me, and I think for everyone that’s done obstetrics. It’s just such a wonderful thing to be a part of.”

Twenty babies were delivered in Innisfail in 2008-09, down from 28 the year before.

Van Wyk said births have dropped over the years, with fewer doctors delivering, so cutting the service won’t make a huge impact.

And the support coming from doctors in other communities has been enormous, he said.

“We’ve spoken to three other communities — Olds, Sundre and Red Deer — and they’ve all said ‘no problem, we’ll pick up the slack,’” Van Wyk said.

Debbie Leitch, program director for maternal child services at Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre, said another 20 babies won’t have a significant impact on Red Deer, where there are over 50 doctors who deliver and six obstetricians.

Doctors in 13 communities in former David Thompson Health Region still deliver babies.

A total of 4,111 babies were delivered in 2007-08 and about the same is expected for 2008-09.

“We have an awesome region. Obstetrics has been a cornerstone of a lot of communities,” Leitch said.

Innisfail is close enough that hopefully people will feel they are getting the access they need, she said.

Prenatal and post-natal care will still be available in Innisfail.

Van Wyk said the patient’s safety will always come first and doctors on call at Innisfail Health Centre will do emergency deliveries, for example when the weather prevents travel.

“It’s not as if we’re going to turn them around at the door when the baby’s head is about to pop out. You’ve got to do it.”

Rob Stevenson, spokesperson with Alberta Health Services, said worldwide more doctors are choosing not to deliver babies and refer to specialists.

The province is looking for physicians who practice obstetrics as part of its recruitment efforts and if some move to the Innisfail area, deliveries will begin again, he said.

“The program is not being mothballed. We’re not tearing down the nursery.”

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