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Staff shortages that forced woman to give birth on the side of the road continue to plague Sask. hospitals

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A woman who was forced to give birth on the side of the road as a result of staffing shortages at her local hospital in northern Saskatchewan says change is needed, as the problem continues to affect health facilities across the province.

When her contractions began in the early morning hours of a March day last year, Kendal Carlberg was told to travel almost 200 kilometres to Lloydminster, as there were not enough nurses at the hospital in Meadow Lake, where she lives.

She and her husband only made it halfway through the nearly two-hour drive. 

“The thoughts in my head were terrifying. Our first child was born via C-section in Meadow Lake due to complications, so all I could think was our baby was going to die on the side of the highway,” Carlberg said Thursday. 

Luckily, a paramedic arrived just in time and her daughter, Maggie, was safely delivered in the back of an ambulance. 

Carlberg says the experience is unacceptable in Saskatchewan. 

“Our hospital should have been [open] to help me and my baby and my husband have a safe delivery,” she said. 

“Travelling or being denied health care should have never happened.” 

Kendal Carlberg is joined by her family, including her husband Nathan, their son Lucas and daughter Maggie, in this portrait.
Carlberg in a family photo with her husband, Nathan, and their children, Lucas and Maggie. (Submitted by Kendal Carlberg)

The problem of staff shortages isn’t unique to Meadow Lake.

Obstetrics services in Estevan, Yorkton, Swift Current and Kindersely have been disrupted, according to news releases on the Saskatchewan Health Authority website and local news reports. 

The service disruptions at Meadow Lake have also continued. Obstetrical services at the local hospital were available for emergencies only as recently as August. Pregnant women were told they’d have to travel to North Battleford or Lloydminster if they were in labour.

Carlberg said many pregnant women who arrive at Meadow Lake Hospital in labour have already travelled from other northern communities, so turning them away is dangerous. She stressed that she does not blame health-care workers in Meadow Lake for the shortages, but rather says poor management of the province’s health-care system is to blame.

NDP MLAs Vicki Mowat and Jennifer Bowes stand with Kendal Carlberg in Meadow Lake, Sask., on Sept. 1, 2022.
NDP MLAs Vicki Mowat and Jennifer Bowes say the province needs to address what they call a chronic disruption of mother-baby services across Saskatchewan in order to avoid more incidents like what Carlberg experienced last year. (Bonnie Allen/CBC)

Now, the provincial Opposition is now calling for the province to immediately address what it calls the chronic disruption of mother-baby services across Saskatchewan.

NDP MLAs Jennifer Bowes and Vicki Mowat joined Carlberg in Meadow Lake on Thursday to call for changes. 

“We continue to see a government that refuses to prioritize reproductive health like obstetrical care,” said Bowes, the NDP’s status of women critic. 

She said the lack of staffing means that women who live in rural Saskatchewan or in Indigenous communities are now going without important health services. 

Mowat, the NDP’s health critic, said the issue predates the COVID-19 pandemic, and blasted the provincial Saskatchewan Party government for its lack of response. 

“What we’re hearing from the Sask. Party government is crickets. Not a word in months from [Health Minister Paul Merriman],” she said. 

The NDP comments come as the impending Saskatoon Meewasin byelection poses a first test for the party’s new leader, Carla Beck. 

The Saskatchewan Health Authority was not able to provide a statement in response by the time of publication. 

CBC also reached out to the provincial government for comment on Thursday evening.

Last week, during a visit to Meadow Lake for the partial opening of a new long-term care home, Rural Health Minister Everett Hindley said the government would ramp up training of health-care workers, and recruit more from across Canada and abroad.

Only 48 of the new long-term care homes 72 beds could be opened last week due to a shortage of nurses.

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