A dark day: Pontiac obstetrics closed for six months

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Allyson Beauregard

SHAWVILLE – It was a devastating day for the Pontiac, February 21, when Josée Filion, director general of the Centre intégré de Santé et de Services sociaux de l’Outaouais (CISSSO) visited the Pontiac Community Hospital (PCH) to announce a six month closure of its obstetrics unit (OBS) as of that evening.
According to Filion, the unit is down to three nurses and four doctors, making
it almost impossible to operate. “It’s a difficult situation for expectant mothers who have to deal with the uncertainty caused by repeated service breakdowns. We want them to be able to plan their delivery so it will be a positive experience. We have no choice but to shut down the unit until September 2020,” she said.
According to Filion, the break in service will give CISSSO time to recruit and rebuild the OBS department in collaboration with the community and the PCH, adding that CISSSO is stepping up recruitment efforts with increased visits to local schools and
international campaigns.
“I emphasize this is not a permanent closure,” Filion told the crowd, noting the OBS unit must have a minimum of eight nurses and four doctors to reopen. CISSSO hopes to reopen the unit sooner than planned, but Filion admitted the interruption could last longer.
Expecting mothers can still be followed by local doctors or midwives from La Maison des Naissances de Gatineau. For the delivery, they are encouraged to use either the Gatineau Hospital or the Maison des Naissances but Pembroke is another option. In the past, staff at the PCH would evaluate mothers in labour prior to transfers to Gatineau, but this is no longer the case.
Pontiac MNA Andre Fortin said he is furious and saddened by the news, mostly because it’s avoidable. “We’ve known about the [problems] for 10 months, but all we’ve seen are patchwork solutions. Permanent solutions should have been implemented; better working conditions and salaries for nurses. The CAQ promised this during the election. If these were in place months ago, we wouldn’t be faced with this now,” he said.
Fortin said he will be asking for monthly progress reports from the health minister to ensure things are on track for opening a “full and reliable” service in September, which he calls “the maximum deadline”.
Shawville Mayor Sandra Murray said stringent language requirements for hospital staff in Quebec also hinder recruitment. “I’m afraid that if we close the unit for six months, it might be closed forever. Look what happened in Maniwaki,” she stressed.
The MRC Pontiac has requested that the region be given a special status due to its proximity to Ontario where nurses earn about $20,000 more annually. “If local workers were offered a monetary incentive to stay here, they might,” added Murray.
Filion said it’s not her place to comment on the effectiveness of increased compensation, but that a province-wide shortage of nurses is the biggest problem.
To protest the decision, the Municipality of Mansfield organized a bus that stopped at various locations in the Pontiac to pick up residents to attend a demonstration at the Hull Hospital. Elected officials also organized various meetings on the topic throughout the week of February 24.