'It was hard': B.C. woman spends weeks living in tent before childbirth
A Bella Coola, B.C. woman spent nearly three weeks in a tent more than five hours from her home in order to be close to a hospital to deliver her daughter after she couldn't afford a hotel room.
Shaiyena Currie told CTV News her doctor said she needed to spend the last month of her pregnancy in the same city as a hospital, even though she wasn’t a high-risk pregnancy, because the tiny hospital in Bella Coola has limited services and can't accommodate deliveries.
"Our original plan was for my sister and I to stay with one of our friends," Currie said from her home in Bella Coola.
At $20 per night to rent a tent pad at the Stampede Campground, near Cariboo Memorial Hospital in Williams Lake, it was the only affordable option, though not a comfortable one.
"It was pretty crowded," Currie said, describing how she, her sister and three-year-old son were crammed in a 10-person tent. "We tried really hard to make it like a camping trip for my son."
"We were trying to keep everything away from the edges, in case it rained so we didn't get soaked. It was also super loud because the one weekend was the gymkhana (horse riding competition) so there was hooting and hollering and a ton of people coming and going all over the place," she said.
At that point, sleep-deprived and with a toddler growing frustrated, they moved to a motel for a break and stayed for a few nights until Currie went into labour a week before expected, saving them the expense of more nights at the motel or moving back to the campground.
Motel would've cost $100/night
When CTV News asked to interview an official with Vancouver Coastal Health about Currie's case and the considerable financial burdens faced by families traveling for childbirth, the health authority said no one was available to speak, and provided material pointing to subsidized travel options and a government-negotiated group rates. The rate is $109 per night for a hotel in Williams Lake.
"Vancouver Coastal Health recognizes the difficulties in providing health services to residents of remote and rural communities," said an email statement from VCH, noting that some expectant mothers choose to stay with family to save on costs. "This issue is not unique to British Columbia, or even to Canada for that matter."
Health Minister Adrian Dix took a different approach at an announcement for the expansion of Burnaby Hospital, acknowledging "It's one of the significant issues I inherited as Minister of Health and the premier inherited as premier and we take it seriously."
He pointed out that while medical advancements have meant for better outcomes for patients, more advanced care, like cancer treatment and baby deliveries, happen at centralized care locations where specialists can offer the best care possible – but he also offered hope for families.
"Improving travel assistance, improving the ability of the supports and the ability of people to travel, particularly expectant mothers, is an important thing we're looking at improving," he said.
Bella Coola's maternity services were scaled back years ago
Central Coast Regional District spokesperson Daniel Bertrand said the local government is pushing Dix to restore maternity services to Bella Coola's hospital, which were scaled back more than a decade ago.
"We're asking the province to look at all the costs families are having to take in having to relocate for maternity services," he said, pointing out one or more family members will take time away from their jobs to accompany women for the month or more if they have to be away.
"We don't think they've looked at the social or cultural costs. We have a hunch when those costs are tallied up, they outweigh the healthcare costs the ministry is focused on," he added.
Currie's sister took three weeks off of work to keep her company and help the heavily-pregnant 23-year-old take care of her toddler.
It's a familiar and frustrating story for their mother, who says the province's expectation that women in remote communities should shoulder the cost of relocating for a month or more is unrealistic and a huge burden.
"It's the fate for Bella Coola moms and the answers we consistently get from Coastal Health is there's the medical rate at hotels," said Shannon Dickson. "The medical rate still works out to approximately $100 a night."
For Currie, who's now home with newborn Octavia and her toddler son, she estimates she spent nearly $10,000 for the campground, food, incidentals and other travel expenses – money she wished had gone elsewhere.
"All that money could be going to stuff for the baby."