Manitoba's midwife shortage could be greatly alleviated if dozens of internationally trained professionals living here could more easily obtain accreditation.
Health Minister Theresa Oswald expressed that view while helping the city's new Birth Centre on St. Mary's Road celebrate its 100th birth on Thursday.
Manitoba has only 42 practising midwives, although health authorities have funding in place for 57. According to one estimate, the province could use 200.
At Thursday's event, Oswald faced questions about why there have been so few births -- only 112 -- at the $3.5-million Birth Centre since December. The facility had its grand opening in October 2011.
The minister said the centre has been "extremely intelligent" in its planning and its pacing, noting there are "naysayers" who don't believe in midwives and "would very much have wanted a critical incident to be proven right."
All 112 births at the centre so far have gone off without a hitch, she said. It was built to accommodate 500 a year.
Oswald said the new facility -- the only one of its kind outside Quebec -- represents a "paradigm shift" for births in Manitoba.
She said the media have failed to grasp these are early days for the facility and many people are still unaware of what it has to offer. Women who had babies during the past year would have committed themselves to a birth plan much earlier, she noted.
"It's about educating our families and our mothers-to-be about this as a choice," she said. "It will take a cultural and philosophical shift for our families to decide that this is the right option for them."
Oswald said the number of midwives practising in Manitoba could quickly double if the College of Midwives of Manitoba expedited the accreditation of foreign-trained midwives already living here.
She noted the college does not track internationally educated midwives who wish to be licensed in Manitoba.
According to provincial data, there are "roughly 56" such midwives who wish to work here, the minister said. "That would essentially double our workforce tomorrow if we could do that."
Oswald said she has been working on the issue "very aggressively" with the college, which has regulated the profession in the province since 2000.
The minister said while she understands the regulatory body must take care in ensuring only qualified professionals are licensed, she believes its processes are "more cumbersome than they need to be."
Patty Eadie, executive director of the College of Midwives of Manitoba, said her organization has been meeting frequently with Oswald's department and other stakeholders to "provide an appropriate route" for registering foreign-trained midwives.
She said the college is grappling with many of the same issues the medical and nursing professions dealt with in developing licensing procedures for foreign-trained professionals.
"We do recognize that there are internationally educated midwives in Manitoba, and we're certainly not against registering them," Eadie said.
The provincial government has come under fire for its failure to train midwives. It launched a training program at the University College of the North in 2006, but that program has yet to see a single graduate. Among its problems is a shortage of midwives with whom students can do practicums.
Lesley Hall, who attended Thursday's event with her husband Charles and four-week-old Alivia, raved about the centre.
"It's like having a baby in a five-star hotel," she said.
Alivia was the 100th baby born at the centre.
"We just decided that we wanted something that was a little bit more natural, a little bit calmer than being in the hospital," Lesley said.