Expectant moms, hospital pediatricians rail at ward closure

Head of obstetrics says it’s difficult to attract pediatric specialists to White Rock hospital, leading to low morale and patient diversions

Vancouver Sun 4 minute read July 8, 2021

Natalie Meyers, holding her newborn son Elliott, says ‘to not know where you can deliver, or deliver safely, feels like a disservice to all of us.’ NICK PROCAYLO / PNG

Natalie Meyers, the mother of a newborn in Surrey, B.C., travelled 19.5 kilometres to Langley Memorial hospital due to a maternity ward closure at Peace Arch Hospital on June 8. She nearly gave birth in the car, and was rushed into emergency surgery minutes later to save her from a postpartum hemorrhage

“It was life or death,” said Meyers, who lives about two minutes away from White Rock’s Peace Arch Hospital, where her midwife has privileges and she had planned to give birth.

As Peace Arch Hospital’s maternity ward faces another closure, from July 9 to July 19, due to what Fraser Health is calling a “gap in pediatrician coverage,” Meyers is speaking out about her harrowing experience, and urges health authorities to do more.

“You are putting women who are already vulnerable, in a more vulnerable state. To not know where you can deliver, or deliver safely, feels like a disservice to all of us,” said Meyers.

Dr. Semion Strovski, head of Peace Arch maternity clinic and co-head of the Peace Arch department of obstetrics and gynecology, said the hospital has struggled for years to recruit qualified pediatricians, leading to patient diversions.

Peace Arch has four full-time pediatricians on staff, said Strovski, but Peace Arch does not have a pediatric nursery or observation unit, so if a newborn needs support or care for the first few days of life it must be transferred to another hospital.

This creates challenges in attracting skilled pediatricians, said Strovski.

“Pediatricians cannot maintain their skills, they are often only acting as a dispatch,” he said. “For our pediatricians this is a frustration point.

“Our ask for pediatricians is that the hospital should have an observation unit or a level-one nursery, so if a baby is born and needs care for the first few day so of its life, it can be done here.”


Last year Peace Arch diverted about 250 maternity patients due to staff shortages. Diverting labouring mothers also creates serious safety issues, said Strovski.

“I had a patient last year that was diverted to Surrey, who was redirected to Burnaby and on the way to Burnaby she had a motor vehicle accident,” he said.

“They should be delivering closest to their home hospital closest to their homes. Support in labour is very important, but if you’ve never seen (the person) before, the relationship is not there.”

In Meyers’ case, “because I had a history of postpartum hemorrhage, it was really important I be with a care team that knew my history and was prepared for that,” she said.

After labouring all night at home, Meyers paged the midwife at 6 a.m. when her water broke, and was told a room was available at Langley Memorial. Her labour progressed more quickly than expected during the 30-minute drive to the hospital. “By the time I got to the ward, his head was coming out.”

Her baby boy, Elliott, was born five minutes after she arrived. “They didn’t even know my name,” said Meyers.

The hemorrhage started immediately. Meyers needed two blood transfusions and emergency surgery to stop the bleeding. “Had I given birth in the car on the way to the hospital, I would have died,” she said.

“I’m angry that I was put in that situation.”


Strovski said a proposal was put forward to the Ministry of Health two years ago to expand services and address the issues but nothing came of it. He added that morale in the unit is low, and pediatric nurses are concerned about employment instability.

Stephanei Beck, executive director of the Peace Arch Hospital Foundation said, “The Foundation expects the Ministry of Health to negotiate with the physicians promptly to reach an agreement so we can provide the best care possible in our rapidly expending community of White Rock and South Surrey.”

In a statement to Postmedia, the Ministry of Health said: “Both Fraser Health and the Ministry of Health recognize the desire to enhance maternity/pediatric services at Peace Arch Hospital. Recruiting pediatricians in Fraser Health has been an ongoing challenge and Fraser Health and the Ministry have been working with the pediatrician group at Peace Arch Hospital to implement a model which would provide additional services and attract physicians to the area. Those discussions are ongoing in hopes of finding a solution to best support the community.”

“All we hope for is uninterrupted pediatric coverage so we can provide safe care to our patients in our community,” said Strovski. It’s a community that is growing. Peace Arch has seen a steady increase in babies delivered in its maternity ward, from 700 in 2009 to 1,000 last year.”

“When I look out my window, all I see is townhomes, and young families and expectant mothers,” said Meyers. “I hope no one else has to go through what I went through.”




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