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Maternity clinic front and centre at candidates health forum

Posted on May 25, 2023 by Ryan Dahlman

By Collin Gallant

Southern Alberta Newspapers

With access to health care a big-ticket issue of the upcoming provincial election, the topic of Medicine Hat’s now defunct maternity clinic is rising to the forefront, as local candidates profess commitment to protecting the health of southeastern Albertans.

Candidates from all parties were invited to share views on health care at a public forum hosted by the Palliser Friends of Medicare at the Public Library last week, however only NDP candidates Cathy Hogg of Cypress-Medicine Hat and Gwendoline Dirk of Brooks-Medicine Hat were present.

Each iterated the need for greater access to care in Medicine Hat, particularly that of physicians and specialists.

When the topic of the maternity clinic was brought up, neither Hogg nor Dirk could confirm whether their party was considering re-establishing the clinic, but promised to advocate for it.

“I’d love to be able to say I will bring the clinic back, unfortunately, I have not seen that on my platform,” said Dirk. “Obviously, this is a very important need for families in Medicine Hat, and it hurts me to think that this was something Medicine Hat lost, (so) I will be a very strong advocate for that.”

While not present due to scheduling conflicts, Cypress-Medicine Hat UCP candidate Justin Wright is also promising to advocate for the clinic’s re-establishment, vowing to fulfil his promise if elected.

“As a father of three whose children were all born thanks to the doctors at the (former) maternity clinic, this has been a commitment of mine,” Wright said in a Thursday statement to the News. “I discussed this issue with the premier at length. I also was a strong advocate for it during my nomination contest debates. I will advocate to bring this service back as it is a vital resource for our community.”

Southern Alberta Newspapers reached out to campaigns for other candidates and asked their stance on the clinic, but received no responses.

Danielle Smith, UCP candidate for Brooks-Medicine Hat, has not spoken publicly about Medicine Hat’s maternity clinic, but was questioned on her plans to address the shortage of obstetrics care in Lethbridge, which still has a maternity clinic, during a recent visit to the city.

Smith proposed increasing the number of midwives to assist in low-risk pregnancies, while suggesting high-risk patients drive to hospitals in major centres. She then attributed the care shortage of rural obstetrics to a lack of anesthesiologists.

Since launching his campaign, Alberta Party Leader Barry Morishita, the candidate again for Brooks-Medicine Hat, has also not publicly shared his thoughts on potential re-establishment of a maternity clinic in Medicine Hat; however he was a vocal proponent of keeping both it and Brooks maternity clinic while serving as Brooks’ mayor in 2021.

Former clinic director and practising physician Dr. Gerry Prince is glad maternity care remains a topic of discussion following the clinic’s closure in 2021.

While Prince says Medicine Hat is in better standing than Lethbridge in regards to maternity care, a maternity clinic would aid in providing pregnant individuals co-ordinated care, but also assist in creating a network of obstetrical care with longevity at the forefront, as clinic staff work together to ensure care needs are met as well as wellness needs of staff.

“It doesn’t matter which party is in power, the same issues are going to be there,” said Prince. “So whoever wins the day will still need to deal with these issues. And we look forward to working with them.”

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