LACOMBE – Following a lengthy review of the obstetrical service and falling birth rates at the Lacombe Hospital and Care Centre, Alberta Health Services (AHS) discontinued obstetrical services at the facility.
The change took effect Dec. 20.
“This was a difficult decision and not one we made lightly,” said Janice Stewart, Chief Zone Officer with AHS Central Zone.
“There has been a steady decline in the number of deliveries at the Lacombe Hospital in recent years, which makes it challenging for staff and physicians to retain their obstetrical skills.
“We must ensure quality care and patient safety, and providing patients with the best experience possible through their delivery. This is what is best for moms and babies.”
The decision comes after a thorough review of the obstetrical program at the site, including a steady decline in births occurring at the site, and from discussions with physicians and staff. Patient feedback was also considered, as a growing number of local women are delivering their babies elsewhere, including Red Deer and Ponoka.
To date, 31 babies have been born at the Lacombe Hospital this year, down from 81 last year and 91 in 2017.
Obstetrics is a high-risk practice that requires a team of experts with specialized skills. For nursing and medical staff to keep up these skills, they need to deliver babies regularly.
There are currently six physicians who support low-risk deliveries at the Lacombe Hospital and Care Centre. As the facility has a limited surgical program and access to anesthesiology, complex, higher-risk births are typically referred to other facilities to provide access to surgical intervention if required, or if a patient wanted the option of an epidural.
“This decision is related to patient safety and patient experience, not financial issues,” said Stewart. “No job losses will occur at the site as a result, and it does not impact any other services offered at the hospital.”
Local physicians will continue providing care to current and future obstetrical patients until the late stages of pregnancy, before transitioning their care to another physician who will support their delivery.
Patients will be able to receive post-natal care for themselves and their infant with their family physician in Lacombe.
“This was a very difficult decision to make but it is one that is in the best interests of our patients,” said Dr. Janni Prins, local physician and Facility Medical Director at the Lacombe Hospital and Care Centre.
“We will be working closely with our patients to provide the care they need through their pregnancy and will be referring them to the care of a colleague in a community of their choice for their delivery.”
City of Lacombe Mayor Grant Creasey said he understands the decision.
“Given the declining delivery rates at the Lacombe Hospital and Care Centre, I respect our area physicians and nurses ensuring the highest possible maternity care by consolidating obstetrical services,” said Creasey.
“I am thankful that we will continue to have the necessary expertise in our community to provide pre- and post-natal care and supports for new mothers and their babies.”
All pregnant patients were contacted through their family physician to ensure they have the support they need, including having a plan in place for where they will safely deliver their babies.