Province announces commitment to keeping midwifery in the North

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QUEEN’S PARK – The spectre of the loss of the only bilingual midwifery program in the province following its announced cancellation by Laurentian University has receded slightly with a commitment from the province.

“The Ontario government has been carefully monitoring Laurentian University during its Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act (CCAA) proceedings,” said Ross Romano, minister of colleges and universities, in a press release. “I want to reaffirm our commitment to the students of Laurentian University to ensure the future of their learning. That is why we are working with the institution to understand their plan to support students and we are prepared to fill any gaps for students that are impacted, if necessary.”

That backfilling will take some time, however, and the minister said the province was crafting interim solutions. “To that end, while the government continues to work on longer-term solutions, we are presently working on immediate pathways for students impacted through the only two other universities that offer midwifery programs, Ryerson and McMaster. We are also working with our Northern and francophone partners to help ensure that the current and the next cohort of students can train to become midwives without leaving Nor-thern Ontario.”

Minister Romano said that midwifery is “an area of concern for me, and all of Northern Ontario, as is the university’s decision to end the midwifery program. This program is the only bilingual midwifery program in Canada. It is crucial that we have the necessary health human resources to provide high-quality health and wellness care in Northern Ontario. That is why the government provided Laurentian University $1 million annually to offer the program. I want to be clear; the government’s priority is to maintain a Northern and bilingual midwifery program option.”

How and what form that will take remains a work in progress, but for the moment, hope rises anew. That’s good news for Manitoulin’s longtime former midwife Mary Buie.

“It is very important that we keep this program in the North,” she said, welcoming news of the provincial commitment.

“We need to keep that program in the North,” she said. “Students come here to learn because they want to practice in rural areas like the North, especially those coming from Indigenous communities. They want to be closer to home.”

Ms. Buie recalled one the students who came from the Laurentian program to do a placement with her on Manitoulin, a Métis woman from Winnipeg who eventually went on to become the current president of the Canadian Midwifery Association. “She was fabulous,” said Ms. Buie. “We have raised so many (midwives) via that midwifery program; so many good rural midwives because they want to work in rural communities.” Currently, Christina Therrien is a midwife working on Manitoulin Island.

The program is important largely due to that rural focus, noted Ms. Buie. “It is important that the students get to work in different places,” she said. “Sometimes they will work as part of a team, sometimes in a collective and sometimes they will be working solo or with another colleague.”

Being trained in the North has a major impact on helping to keep health professionals in the North, said Ms. Buie. “That’s a large part of the reason behind the Northern Ontario Medical School, not the only reason, but an important one.”

The Ontario and federal NDP has made the midwifery program a singular focus in recent weeks, calling on both levels of government to step up and find a solution to the closure. The midwifery program was funded 100 percent by the federal government, but despite that, Laurentian University shut down the program during its recent restructuring.