Yukon’s Health and Social Services Minister Tracy-Anne McPhee (left) and midwife Elizabeth Morrison (right) speak to reporters at the launch of the Yukon’s first midwifery clinic on July 6, 2022. (Dana Hatherly/Yukon News Files)

Yukon’s Health and Social Services Minister Tracy-Anne McPhee (left) and midwife Elizabeth Morrison (right) speak to reporters at the launch of the Yukon’s first midwifery clinic on July 6, 2022. (Dana Hatherly/Yukon News Files)

Yukon midwifery clients transferred due to staffing shortage

Only one midwife with full hospital privileges on government payroll

Staffing challenges have led the Yukon’s fledgeling registered midwife program to temporarily pass all its patients to Solstice Maternity, a team of maternity physicians for prenatal care and births.

The program is down to only one midwife with full hospital privileges.

The midwives will still be offering postnatal care under the temporary scheme.

“This shift is due to staff shortages that prevent the Yukon Midwifery Program from being able to safely offer birthing options to Yukoners. Other jurisdictions are facing similar challenges due to a national shortage of health care workers. An intensive recruitment campaign to hire additional registered midwives is ongoing,” a Yukon government announcement from Jan. 12 reads.

A Yukon department of Health and Social Services representative explained the staffing crunch; the midwifery program is short one midwife and another has not completed orientation and does not have hospital privileges, as they were just hired in December.

The program’s clinical manager is on maternity leave starting early next month, adding to the staffing issue. In a Jan. 18 email to the News, the government rep wrote that all four of the program’s four positions, three midwives and the clinical manager had been filled but the situation has changed.

All four positions will have to be filled in order to restore the 24/7 coverage set out in the midwives’ standards of practice and promised to clients.

Midwife registration in the territory has had a fraught history in recent years. Following more than a decade of promises and discussion, the Yukon government unveiled registration and regulations for midwifery in the territory in April 2021.

Criticism followed almost immediately with the Yukon Party’s health critic, Brad Cathers, saying the government had bungled the rollout of the program and claimed that the new rules had effectively banned the private practice of midwifery in the territory and left an unnecessary service gap.

A year after the regulations were rolled out there were no actively practicing midwives in the territory. A few weeks after the anniversary of the regulations passed, the government announced that two midwives had been successfully hired and would begin taking clients in July.

Now six months later, with no immediate horizon for the midwifery program hiring and training its way back to a full compliment, at least some of the clients who had expected the services of a midwife throughout their pregnancies and the births of their children are left feeling disappointed.

Among them is Shalom Dawson, who is 35 weeks pregnant. She says her pregnancy had been overseen by the midwifery program since it opened.

“I was actually their first accepted client. They are so welcoming and loving. You don’t usually hear the word loving in medical care, but that’s what they are,” Dawson wrote in a message to the News.

“The care that you receive from a midwife is incomparable to Solstice. The midwives spend 30+ weeks getting to know you, building a relationship and gaining trust,” Dawson added.

Dawson went with a similar service to Solstice Maternity for a previous birth. She has concerns, including that she won’t know what doctor she will get in the delivery room in advance. She said she was unsatisfied with her experience during and in the lead-up to the previous birth, and had been excited to have the option of a midwife for the coming birth.

Along with her own worries, Dawson acknowledged that those who had planned on having a home birth are likely to be even more affected.

Dawson says the midwifery program called her directly to inform her about the transfer of her care over to Solstice Maternity. The government’s notice about the move of the patients over to Solstice Maternity states that all of the midwife program clients were notified in this way.

The notice promises a high standard of care and a smooth transition for the midwifery clients who will be in the care of Solstice Maternity.

Minister of Health and Social Services, Tracy-Anne McPhee, said the safety and well-being of Yukoners was the top priority considered when making the decision to change the care provider for the midwifery clients. The minister expressed gratitude for Solstice Maternity’s willingness to step in and offer care. Amid health care labour shortages that she says are happening across the country, McPhee said recruitment efforts are ongoing in the Yukon.

“The physicians at Solstice Maternity and Whitehorse General Hospital have been delighted to work in collaboration with registered midwives and the Yukon Midwifery Program since its inception. We are happy to be part of the care team and to assist with care during this time of staffing challenges,” said Solstice Maternity physician Dr. Susan Alton.

Contact Jim Elliot at jim.elliot@yukon-news.com