The Health Authority Expected A Negative Reaction After Cutting Prenatal Classes On The Internet
A few months after her first pregnancy, cartoonist Nova Scotian Kate Pitton learned two things: she no longer has a midwife, and the prenatal interrupt program has just collapsed.
Nova Scotia is the only province in Atlantic Canada that does not offer a form of prenatal comprehensive education. Quotas were officially terminated in January 2015 and replaced by an online course that was canceled late last year.
“It’s a black hole … find it yourself,” Pitton said in a phone interview from her home in Port Hood.
“It puts you in a difficult place when you look for information … Every new day comes every day with something you want, is it normal? I do not know.”
CBC News learned that the Nova Scotia Health Authority was preparing to retreat from parents and doctors after pulling the plug on the Welcome to Parenting site, which offered classes on pregnancy, childbirth and care for the new baby.
Nova Scotia parents are now directed to a web site with a list of links to other resources.
The documents obtained through the Freedom of Information request show that senior officials of the NSHA Early Years Program were careful about how to relocate the quake site, noting that “there is a great political interest and negative media attention to stopping global prenatal classes.”
But the documents detail the extent to which fewer people are already registered for personal classes and online. The proportion of first-time mothers who took part in personal classes fell to 31 per cent in 2014 from 42 per cent in 2011.
Out of 1,229 users registering for Welcome to Parenting in their second year, 90 percent had not clicked on a single lesson.
The Health Authority referred to these low numbers as a reason for stopping the program, and said it was now using much-needed resources – with vulnerable families.
But Pitton said it was up to the county to provide the prenatal resources that new parents already wanted to use.
“The government had programs for pregnant mothers before, and then I found some ridiculous excuses for not having them anymore, as in the lack of attention that is not there at all,” she said. “There are all kinds of interest, but there is no program.”
On March 12, 2018, the Director of Early Years sent an e-mail to Ontario, which manages Welcome to Parenting, stating that NSHA was concluding its contract.
Over the next few months, e-mails, briefing notes and memos were exchanged between NSHA staff detailing the transition process, which included everything from making sure that the site was no longer searchable online to distribute new printed materials to doctors’ offices.
According to the Transition Plan document circulated by the Senior Year Advisor to other senior officials in April 2018, there were a number of “risks” associated with the “Welcome to Parenting” stoppage.
They include “negative media attention” and “loss of public health credibility”.
“Women and families who currently use the site may see that stopping the site affects their ability to access Nova Scotia’s prenatal information,” the document states.
Nisha predicted that the risk with the highest “probability” and “size” would come from doctors. They made up a quarter of the references to “Welcome to parenting” and “may think of a gap when the website is no longer available,” according to the specific transition plan.
An update document prepared by the first years director in April 2018 also indicates that doctors were not happy when personal classes were re-examined in 2014.
The doctor says finding information “a lot of work”
Dr. Natasha Dishwal runs a women’s health clinic in Bedford Bassin and said women were surprised and disappointed when she told them there were no government-funded classes.
Now, instead of sending people to a resource you know is good, they tell people to switch to Google. Recognize that they are not perfect, and are afraid that patients get less reliable information.
Health Minister Randy Delory insists it is not about cost. He said that the money spent by the province on the site “Welcome to parenthood” is distributed to other programs before and after birth.
“It has already been decided to channel the funding provided by [NSHA] to programs that they believe are truly delivering the best value to ensure that the most vulnerable, most mothers and new children receive the best possible care,” he said.
But Desaul does not think the answer is to end a global program entirely.
“I certainly think we need to target people we feel are more at risk,” she said. “I think it is our duty and our responsibility to target everyone in general.”
The head of doctors agrees Nova Scotia.
“I think we still have to look at the question: How do we meet the needs of those who need more prenatal education, but we still meet the needs of those who want it?