Midwives Josée Gervais and Joanna Norman with mom Karen Enns, who opted to give birth at home because of the pandemic. PHOTO BY MIGHTY OAK MIDWIFERY /PNG
By Denise Ryan
Midwives in B.C. say they are at a crisis, and they are the only primary health-care providers not being given pandemic support measures like PPE and pandemic replacement income in the event of quarantine due to exposure at work.
Lehe Spiegelman, president of the Midwives Association of B.C., said midwives are unfairly affected by the risks of COVID-19, and are experiencing stress and burnout at increasing rates. “It’s very alarming.”
“We have several midwives that have been exposed and are on quarantine. If the midwife was exposed in a workplace setting, we would expect to be able to have a quarantine replacement fund.”
Midwives are essential service workers whose work has been vital to reducing hospital visits and relieving pressure on the health-care system during the pandemic, said Spiegelman.
Karen Enns had baby Lewis on May 5 at her Kamloops home. “I switched to having a home birth because of COVID. This is my fifth baby and my older kids wouldn’t have been able to come to the hospital to see the baby.”
Enns said the prenatal care with her midwife was much different than her previous experiences with physicians. “I felt like I actually had a voice compared to previous experiences. I had a voice and a say in my care.”
B.C.’s 300 midwives deliver nearly a quarter of the babies born in the province, and are the second-lowest paid in Canada according to their association. Meanwhile, demand for their services has increased during COVID-19, with home births up by 40 per cent in May 2020 from May 2019.
“It is a priority for the Midwives Association to be able to work with the ministry to ensure the basics: ability for midwives to claim pandemic replacement income in the event of quarantine due to exposure at work,” said Spiegelman, something that has not happened, “despite … asking the ministry to address this urgently.”
Spiegelman said midwives have been left out of pandemic planning programs available to their medical counterparts. These include compensation for time and cost required to plan and prepare for COVID, the installation of plexiglass, implementation of sanitization and physical distancing processes and virtual care options, and are required to pay out of pocket for PPE, except in the cases of home births.
According to a study to be released next week by the Midwives Association, 90 per cent of midwives report an increased demand for home births during the pandemic. Two out of three midwives, or 69 per cent, say they are working more because of COVID. Now, 18 per cent of midwives report taking steps to leave the profession, twice as many as in 2017 when just nine per cent were considering leaving. And 79 per cent report that their mental health is worse now than before COVID.
A report published in September by the Sustainable Midwifery Practice Taskforce said that one in three midwives say it’s likely they will leave the profession if their problems are not addressed by the B.C. government. The task force called on the Ministry of Health to develop and deliver strategies to support and retain midwives.
“COVID has really exposed a system where midwives are poorly and unfairly compensated and this experience has been really challenging for midwives who are working as front-line essential care workers without basic benefits,” said Spiegleman.
Midwifery services are covered for eligible British Columbia residents enrolled with the Medical Services Plan and funded by the Ministry of Health. B.C. midwives recently voted to move their contract dispute with the provincial government to arbitration.
Postmedia asked the Ministry of Health for comment but did not hear back before deadline.
To read the Midwifery COVID survey results, please click here.