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Coronavirus: Ontario midwives wonder why they’re not considered front-line workers

Coronavirus: Ontario midwives not included in ‘pandemic pay’ list
WATCH ABOVE: On International Midwives Day, clients and midwives are reflecting on how midwifery has helped keep mothers and babies safe during the COVID-19 pandemic. But as Caryn Lieberman reports, they also point out they’re the forgotten front liners.

When Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced a temporary COVID-19 pandemic payment for front-line workers, midwives were left off the list.

“We should be on that list, midwives are essential workers who provide primary healthcare for pregnancy, birth and newborn care, and we’re quite shocked and disappointed that we were left off that list,” said Elizabeth Brandeis, registered midwife and president of the Association of Ontario Midwives (AOM).

READ MORE: Researchers study mental health of front-line workers responding to COVID-19 pandemic

There are more than 350,000 front-line workers in Ontario who are now eligible for a pay raise of $4 per hour, including long-term-care home staff and personal support workers.

Those who are eligible are employees providing front-line and support services, but midwives are not among them.

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“We’re feeling very supportive of the concept of pandemic pay this has been major upheaval for the whole healthcare system,” said Brandeis.

“Midwives are front line workers and the way we’ve had to transform the way we work, the extra risk we’re taking on for ourselves and our families really means we should be eligible.”

Coronavirus outbreak: Ontario implements ‘pandemic pay’ for frontline staff
Coronavirus outbreak: Ontario implements ‘pandemic pay’ for frontline staff

New mother and nurse, April Colbourne, delivered a son two weeks ago at Credit Valley Hospital with the help of both midwives and doctors.

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“The partnership between the Credit Valley staff and the midwives was really nice to see and just made the whole process easier for our family,” she said.

She had planned to give birth at home but baby Elijah had other plans.

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Still, Colbourne took an early discharge and spent just three hours in hospital.

This was her second pregnancy supported by midwives.

“The midwives were amazing and they had so much information and they have so much knowledge,” she said.

Colbourne added she cannot understand why midwives would not be eligible for the temporary pay hike during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It was disheartening to hear that they were being left out of the pandemic pay. They’re doing home visits, they come to our home, they put themselves at risk, and of course everybody has protocols but especially in a pandemic like this, everybody is anxious and they are on the front lines,” she said.

Registered midwife Remi Ejiwunmi, head of the Division of Midwifery at Trillium Health Partners in Mississauga, explained there have been many “little changes” to the way she sees clients to ensure their safety during the pandemic.

“Shortening appointments, providing clients the option of virtual appointments, reducing their exposure to high volume areas by seeing them in their homes, making sure we have PPE,” she said.

Some Ontario front-line workers left behind on pay premiums during pandemic
Some Ontario front-line workers left behind on pay premiums during pandemic

Bottom line though, Ejiwunmi noted, is that the essence of midwifery has not changed.

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“We wrap care around the pregnant person and their family … we put them at the centre of care and make sure that they’re actively involved in their care,” she said.

Even if that new mother is COVID-19 positive.

There were two births last month at Trillium Health Partners by mothers who had tested positive for the virus.

“For any mum who delivers at Trillium Health Partners who is COVID-19 positive, the midwifery practices that work in Mississauga are seeing those patients after they’re discharged in their homes so they can actually stay home and self quarantine,” said Ejiwunmi.

Tuesday marks International Day of the Midwives and AOM president Elizabeth Brandeis said midwives are a “lifeline for care for people through pregnancy, people who are about to have their babies and those parents with newborns.”

She noted the announcement they would not be eligible for pandemic pay is not their first battle with the Ontario government.

Midwives in the province recently won a human rights battle for pay equity.

READ MORE: Coronavirus: Grocery store workers, truck drivers now eligible for free child care in Ontario

The Human Rights Tribunal ordered the province to increase the wages of the province’s 963 registered midwives because of long-standing gender discrimination.

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“We were found to have been discriminated against because we’re a female dominated profession.. The government has chosen to continue to fight us in court,” said Brandeis.

“Not only are we undervalued in the work that we do in a non-crisis situation, this pandemic is just really kicking us when we’re down,” she added.