Management fight to keep North Waikato birth and postnatal centre viable
Declining numbers of women using Huntly Birthcare for birth and postnatal care has management fighting to keep its head above water.
Since 2007, numbers of births at the North Waikato centre dropped by more than half.
Postnatal stays are heading in the same direction with a 35 per cent decrease.
General manager Ann Hanson said the Waikato District Health Board-funded centre was losing money and was not financially sustainable.
"Very concerned, we never envisaged that happening," she said.
However there are no plans in the near future to close the centre, only to try keep it going.
"We've done lots of things to curb it over the years."
In 2014, two lead maternity carers were employed by Birthcare which saw an almost 30 per cent increase of post natal care stays over the following year.
However it wasn't to last with the downward trend continuing.
There was also a staffing review that year which saw only one midwife working each shift with more staffing consultations this year.
"We want to work with a model that is financially sustainable...yes it may be a reduction in services that it may not go for 24/7, [but]I'm not saying that will happen.
"We really need to break even or just make a little profit."
Hanson said the community could help play a part as well.
"It's not just about staffing but getting the community on board... strategies to actually engage the community.
"It's hard to know what else what we can do but we are listening."
The unit also provides services like pregnancy tests and newborn screenings.
Hanson said it was an important asset to the community given the large proportion of rural women and those who had issues with transport.
"There's a sense of isolation, it's important to have somewhere where they can recover after birth.
"Early registration with a lead maternity carer and good antenatal care are key to good clinical outcomes for mothers and babies and providing these services in the local community encourages women to access them."
Huntly isn't the only small community to have faced issues.
Te Kuiti's birthing unit is set to close and South Island town Tuatapere lost its facility last year.
Rural Women New Zealand health portfolio spokesperson Margaret Pittaway said some first-time mothers were choosing hospitals because they felt it was more secure.
"It's unfortunate because it's taking women away from their home and families."
Figures provided by the Waikato DHB showed in 2012, 11 women from North Waikato gave birth at Waikato Hospital without medical invervention and in 2016 there were 74.
It would be "ideal" for small communities to keep their birthing centres, she said, but sometimes it's not viable if the demand was not there.
But that leaves the question of what happens if communities were left without their own birthing centre.
"There's huge considerations there, but there are no easy answers."
Midwifery advisor for the Midwives College Alison Eddy was also concerned at the trend.
"We also know it's quite a deprived region [in North Waikato]... They are sort of a key infrastructure and support, if you take away that not only does it take away the services but it can reduce the community midwifery support as well."
Often women chose a hospital out of fear from publicised stories and a lack of information, she said.
"There's a bit of a culture around fear of giving birth, there's still a lot of anxiety, particularly for first-time mothers."
Her view was for the Government to invest in good transfer systems in case women did need to get to the hospital quickly.