TORONTO - Ontario's health minister says he is confident that even if an obstetrics unit in the Leamington hospital closes, women and babies in the area will receive high-quality care.
Eric Hoskins says a decision is expected in June on whether Leamington District Memorial Hospital will close its birthing unit due to a funding shortfall.
Hoskins met with a group of pregnant women and concerned community members who travelled to the legislature today to put pressure on the government to ensure the unit stays open.
He says the Local Health Integration Network is compiling a report, which he expects will be completed in April, so the public can give input before a decision is made in June.
Hoskins says he won't prejudge that decision, but if there is any change to services in Leamington it would be phased in over a period of time to guarantee patients' safety and security.
The women from Leamington say they worry that if they have to travel an hour to Windsor to give birth, mothers will be delivering babies on the side of the highway.
"I'm not asking for a luxury item," said Sandra Dick, who is 32 weeks pregnant, but said she is also advocating on behalf of other Leamington-area expectant mothers whose due dates are after June.
"I have a right to ask and to expect my government to provide me and my baby with safe and accessible care for my pregnancy and birth."
Natalie Mehra of the Ontario Health Coalition said it seems as though birthing services are being systematically cut, particularly in rural and smaller towns.
"Has the Ontario government made a policy decision behind-the-scenes to close birthing and women's health services in small and even medium-sized towns everywhere?" she said.
The Windsor and Leamington area's three NDP MPPs issued a joint statement saying they will "fight to preserve birthing options for expecting mothers."
"This Liberal government is slashing these services at a time when it should be investing in rural birthing options, so that mothers can give birth in the community where their child will be raised and in the manner they choose be it with an obstetrician, midwife, or family physician," wrote Lisa Gretzky, Percy Hatfield and Taras Natyshak.