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Year : 2022  |  Volume : 27  |  Issue : 2  |  Page : 61-68

Northern Ontario's Obstetrical Services in 2020: A developing rural maternity care desert

1 Division of Clinical Sciences, Northern Ontario School of Medicine, Marathon, Ontario, Canada
2 Division of Clinical Sciences, Northern Ontario School of Medicine, Haileybury, Ontario, Canada
3 Northern Ontario School of Medicine, Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada
4 Faculty of Medicine, Memorial University, St. Johns, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada

Correspondence Address:
MD, CCFP Eliseo Orrantia
Division of Clinical Sciences, Northern Ontario School of Medicine, Marathon, Ontario
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/cjrm.cjrm_4_21

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Introduction: Rural maternity care services matter. Obstetrical care in rural Canada has seen concerning trends of service closures and decreasing numbers of family physicians who predominantly provide this service. Such reductions have been shown to have a serious impact on maternal/foetal well-being. Methods: This study investigated the present state of obstetrical services in Northern Ontario, comparing results to those of the last similar survey in 1999. All 40 Northern Ontario communities with hospitals were surveyed, as were the 16 midwife practices in the region. Results: Of the 35 rural and 5 urban hospitals surveyed, the number not offering obstetrical care has risen from 37.5% in 1999 to 60% in 2020, with all the closures having been rural sites. There have been no re-openings of obstetrics in hospitals that did not offer obstetrics in 1999. Women in the 9 communities that had offered maternity services in 1999, but no longer do in 2020, now travel an average of over 1.5 h to access these services. In those communities that continue obstetrics, but stopped offering caesarean sections, women now travel 2.5 h for this surgery. Although the total number of general physicians remains at the 1999 level, the number offering intrapartum care has dropped by 65% in urban centres and by 49% in rural ones still providing maternity care. Conclusions: Like much of the rural United States, rural Northern Ontario is well on its way to becoming a maternity care desert. As proven in Southern Australia, supportive government policies and programmes should be established and education reform enacted to reverse this concerning trend.

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