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Pontiac obstetrics unit reopening delayed CISSSO promises “unique hybrid” solution

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Added: Wed, 09/09/2020 - 9:57pm
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Allyson Beauregard

SHAWVILLE – Representatives of the Centre intégré de santé et de services sociaux de l'Outaouais (CISSSO) visited the Shawville CLSC, August 25, to give an update on the status of the Pontiac Community Hospital’s (PCH) obstetrics (OBS) unit . They announced it will not reopen in September as planned after being closed in February.
“In the midst of the COVID pandemic, where our energy was focused on fighting the virus, CISSSO’s efforts to rebuild the obstetrics service in the Pontiac area were slowed. Therefore, despite the efforts of the clinical, medical and recruitment teams, it’s impossible for us to reopen safely at the moment,” said Josée Filion, CISSSO director general.
Currently, pregnant women can choose to be followed by a midwife and deliver at the Maison de naissance in Gatineau or have regular medical follow-ups locally until about 32 weeks gestation when they are transferred to Gatineau to prepare for delivery. Ontario is also an option, and according to Filion, two thirds of mothers have chosen to deliver across the border since the local OBS unit was closed.
“This service has been in place for a few months and we are improving it so mothers can benefit from local service. CISSSO’s goal is to offer a hybrid model of pregnancy monitoring in the Pontiac area by a multidisciplinary team of
midwives and doctors by the end of 2020,” said Martine Bilodeau, director of
youth programs, who also attended the conference.
Although precise details are not yet available about how the hybrid model will
function, mothers will be given the option of either being followed by a midwife (eligibility determined by the conditions of their pregnancy) or regular medical staff. Both will offer local appointments and deliver at the PCH; the two services will operate autonomously. According to Jane Toller, MRC Pontiac warden, a midwife can follow up to 40 mothers at a time. A project manager will be hired to coordinate this initiative, which Filion says is unique and a first in Québec.
Filion said it will take “a few months” to get the model in place. However, delivering locally with regular medical staff will only happen once CISSSO recruits the minimum of eight nurses needed to reopen the OBS unit; there are currently four.
According to Nicholas Gillot, CISSSO director of professional services and clinical relevance, there are enough doctors available to reopen the unit.  
“In regards to hiring nurses, CISSSO is very active and several candidates have been hired,” said Filion, who noted five future nurses are currently completing their on-site training at the PCH before writing their final exams in October or November. Once they finish, they can choose to take an intensive one month course to work in obstetrics. Even if all five choose to work in OBS at the PCH, Filion warned that it still puts the unit in a fragile situation as employees take sick leave and holidays.
According to Pontiac MNA André Fortin, nothing will change unless something is done at a governmental level to attract nurses.
“The only limiting factor here is the availability of human resources. While it appears CISSSO has made some progress by attracting new nurses and soon-to-graduate nurses to our hospital, the issue of lower pay in Québec still lingers. Unless the CAQ government resolves the pay issue as promised, we will continue to attract nurses to the Pontiac only to lose them eventually to nearby Ontario hospitals,” he said, noting the government has not yet brought up the issue in the ongoing negotiations with the nurses’ unions.
To attract employees to the area, a committee composed of CISSSO representatives and MRC Pontiac mayors are working on an incentive package, which they call a “welcome wagon”, given the wage discrepancy between Québec and Ontario where nurses earn about $10 an hour more. 
“It’s important to open a strong and sustainable unit so it will never close again. We need incentives for people to come work here and stay, and we also need to address the salary discrepancy,” said Toller, noting the MRC is suggesting a pilot project to equalize wages be implemented in the Pontiac. 
The MRC/CISSSO committee will meet monthly.