New Democrats worried about impact on Northern health care because of Laurentian University restructuring

By Len Gillis
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

There is a concern that if the financial restructuring for Laurentian University continues under the CCAA (Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act) process, that the overall level of health care in Northern Ontario will be negatively impacted.

That was part of the discussion held Monday morning during a Zoom teleconference meeting held Monday to discuss how possible changes at the LU might diminish the level of health care services in the North. The meeting was hosted by Sudbury MPP Jamie West. 

One of the examples of diminished service is the decision by Laurentian University senate to cut programs such as the Honours Bachelor of Health Sciences (B.H.Sc.) in Midwifery, said Nickel Belt MPP France Gélinas, the NDP official opposition health critic in the Ontario Legislature.

Gélinas, who took part in the teleconference, said the decision will impact the overall number of graduate midwives who choose to stay and live in the North.

“We’ve seen through the pandemic that a lot of families have chosen to deliver (a baby) at home, deliver with a midwife in order to avoid having to go to the hospital,” said Gélinas. “Or when the midwives are not there, none of this is possible.”

She said it was the same with the nursing program offered through Collège Boréal, with an affiliation with the university. Gélinas said the idea is to make it easier for Northern Ontario students to take nursing programs, to graduate and provide their services.

“The school of nursing has lost their placement co-ordinator. They’ve lost a lot of technicians that helped nurses learn. It is hard to become a midwife. It is hard to become a nurse. There is a lot of learning and if you don’t have the right support around you, you’re not going to make the final exam. You’re not going to graduate. And unfortunately this is already happening,” said Gélinas.

The teleconference also featured a discussion with Midwifery student Abigail Roseborough, now in her third year at LU.

“I am entering my senior year. I am a Northern Indigenous student. I was born and raised in Kenora, Ontario. And this is a large factor in my decision to attend Laurentian for midwifery,” said Roseborough.

She said other choices were attending either Ryerson or McMaster universities in Toronto or Hamilton. She said both of those cities were just too far away from home and support systems.

“Laurentian advertised an Indigenous focus with Indigenous support, which made the move a little bit easier,” said Roseborough. She said this meant she was able to find a familiar support system at LU where she was treated like a family member. 

“We’re trained as a family,” she remarked.

Roseborough said on many occasions when she had an issue or needed help she could turn to her classmates or faculty for help.

“They had my back. They supported me as if I was one of their own,” she told the meeting.

Roseborough also said there were too few universities in the North, and too few that addressed Indigenous challenges.

“These cuts made by Laurentian have a large effect on the connectivity of the North,” she added.

She added that she has enjoyed training placements in Northern Ontario venues, something that she said would not have happened if she attended a university in Hamilton or Toronto.

The other concern she expressed is that Northern Ontario needs to continue the Midwifery program at LU because obstetricians across the North are overwhelmed with work and need the help.

Roseborough said the students were initially told they were safe and that their program would not be hurt.

“Laurentian broke their promise to us, to educate us, to protect us and that we wouldn’t be affected,” Roseborough said. 

Sudbury MPP West said it was unclear why the Midwifery program at LU was chopped. 

“The program you’re in is one of six in Canada. It’s the only bilingual program in Canada. It is the only French program outside of Quebec,” said West. He added that the program is fully funded by the Ontario government and provides an essential health service to the province. 

West said the program cuts “make absolutely no sense.”

Based on an April 21 affidavit from University president LU president Robert Haché,

LU made the decision to close the Midwifery program due to the financial costs associated with running the program that could not adequately be met by funding received from the Ministry of Colleges and Universities (MCU) and the Ministry of Health pursuant to a transfer payment agreement. 

The affidavit further argued that the midwifery program is generally regarded as 

“An expensive program to run (relative to other programs), it is difficult for LU to solely rely on grant funding to continue operating the program. Further compounding matters is the fact that the MCU has imposed an annual cap of 30 new students that may be accepted into the Midwifery program at LU, which limits its potential growth.”

Later in the teleconference, West said he didn’t think the CCAA process was too far along or that it was too late for change.

“I don’t think it’s ever too late. I don’t know what the government is expecting by allowing the CCAA process to go forward,” said West.

He said the process makes no sense, although it may be helpful to LU’s creditors.

“What we’re saying is to put a moratorium on this; to stop what’s happening there. If you don’t have the courage to completely stop it, at least pause the outcome so the students can be successful,” said West.