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Alberta midwives, AHS reach agreement on expanding rural access

Click to play video: 'Midwives react to provincial funding increase' Midwives react to provincial funding increase
WATCHED ABOVE: The Alberta government announced it was providing additional funding for midwives in March 2016. About 400 more women will gain access to a midwife as a result. Registered midwife Mia Fothergill dropped by Global News Morning Weekend to talk about it – Apr 17, 2016

Alberta Health Services (AHS) and the Alberta Association of Midwives has come to an agreement the province says will increase the number of midwives practising in Alberta and includes a plan to get more midwives caring for families in rural and remote areas.

“We know that many families have been unable to get a midwife or have had to drive hours on a highway to access midwifery services,” Associate Minister of Health Brandy Payne said.

“We have worked with our partners in Alberta Health Services and the Alberta Association of Midwives to help more families get this support closer to home.”

The 2016 provincial budget provided a funding increase of $11 million over the course of three years, which will allow about 400 more midwife-assisted births each year — an increase of about 30 per cent.

READ MORE: Alberta government to fund 400 more births by midwives this fiscal year 

As part of this funding increase, the government asked AHS and the association to target growth in under-served communities.

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The two-year agreement approved by Alberta Association of Midwives members earlier this spring includes:

  • Maintaining or increasing current funding levels for established midwife practices.
  • Supporting graduates of Mount Royal University’s Bachelor of Midwifery program so they can start their careers in Alberta instead of having to move to other provinces.
  • Managing the costs of liability insurance for midwives.
  • Creating a joint process that AHS and the association will use to determine how to allocate new funding.

READ MORE: Mount Royal University births first class of midwifery grads

“We know that more and more Albertans are turning to midwifery as a preferred option and we intend to support this growth,” AHS president and CEO Dr. Verna Yiu said, acknowledging the role midwives play in the provision of maternal and newborn care.

“We look forward to continuing to work with our health-care partners to address the non-financial barriers to the sustainable growth of midwifery in Alberta,” said Nicole Matheson, president of the Alberta Association of Midwives.

Specific details of how that expanded care will be provided in rural and remote areas was not disclosed.

READ MORE: Midwives, families bring birthing tubs to Alberta legislature to push for improved funding

Mia Fothergill is a university-trained midwife from the U.K., where she says midwives are the primary source of care for all pregnant women. She is now a registered midwife in Alberta and joined Global News Morning Weekend last year to share her thoughts on the budget increase.

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“We were first regulated in Alberta in 1994, but it wasn’t until 2009 that the government started funding us,” she explained. “Since then the demand has grown exponentially. The funding simply hasn’t kept up with the demand.”

Fothergill said the NDP government has been supportive of increasing access to midwives. She said the funding increase was great, but it didn’t address all the women on the waiting list.

“It only provides care for a proportion of those — a small proportion — and it doesn’t actually allow all the midwives currently in Alberta to work to their full capacity.”

The province said since 2009, there has been a 229 per cent increase in the number of midwives practicing in Alberta. As of January 2013, registered midwives are governed by the College of Alberta Midwives.

The province said midwives currently assist with about five per cent of pregnancies in Alberta.

It’s expected by 2018-2019, just under 4,000 births in Alberta will be under the care of a midwife.

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