Now that the Alberta government is granting full public funding for midwifery services, expectant mothers can deliver their little bundles of joy free of charge. Health and Wellness Minister Ron Liepert announced that after April 1, 2009, women will be able to explore more options and gain better access to health care in hospitals, birthing centres or at home.
"I think the main beneficiaries are going to be pregnant families because now they're going to have the choice of which health care provider they wish to work with, whether it's a physician or whether it's a midwife," said faculty of nursing associate professor Carol Rogers. "As far as midwives go, they're going to be busier than they are now."
Only 31 registered midwives and six student midwives worked in Alberta in 1997 and today these figures are not much different. Because Alberta has pledged public funding in the coming year, it is unlikely the number of midwives will increase by that time. Rogers thinks that midwifery has only recently received the consideration it deserves.
"It's going to take awhile for there to be enough midwives in the province to meet the need," said Rogers. "We don't know what the demand will be because people have not thought to include midwifery as an option because it was not covered in health care dollars."
Rogers hopes that funding the public system will encourage students to practice midwifery as a career.
"There has not been a lot of opportunity now for people to access midwifery care, but there will be because now, with the fact that midwifery services are funded, perhaps more midwives who are already able to practice in another province might choose to come here," said Rogers, who was an active midwife for five years of her almost 40 years in nursing. "I hope that we can eventually have an education program in the province so that we can have more midwives."
Alberta's plans to cover midwifery services will relieve pressure on doctors, nurses and hospitals and foster collaboration between midwives, physicians, nurses and other health care professionals.
Families will save the approximately $3,500 they'd typically spend on midwifery services.
"The obvious advantage for those who were going to pay is that now it's less of a financial burden for them," said Alberta Health and Wellness spokesman Howard May.
The full coverage is a major breakthrough for midwives who have been fighting the government for public funding for more than a decade. In 1994, the government approved regulation of midwives and began covering most of their liability insurance in 2003.
"It's a natural progression," said May. "We've recognized for some time the important role that midwives can play in the system."
The government estimates the Alberta Health Services Board will need approximately $4 million within its first fiscal year to fund midwives.
The Alberta Health Services Board, Alberta Health and Wellness and Alberta Association of Midwives plan to create a structure to provide full midwifery services to women with low-risk pregnancies.