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Province looks to right troubled midwifery program

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 27/6/2016 (937 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The province has spent $8,049,000 supporting midwifery at University College of the North since its inception in 2006 — including base funding of $859,000 for the academic year starting in September.

And while there are varying claims of how many students have graduated, UCN says the number is nine: one in 2013 and eight in 2014.

Now, the University of Manitoba, UCN and Manitoba Education Minister Ian Wishart are trying to pull together a midwifery program that will start barely two months from now with no signed-up faculty and no confirmed classroom space.

What the program does have is 14 students desperately hoping they’ll be able to go into the second year of a four-year program. (They declined through intermediaries to be interviewed, fearing repercussions if they speak out.)

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 27/6/2016 (937 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The province has spent $8,049,000 supporting midwifery at University College of the North since its inception in 2006 — including base funding of $859,000 for the academic year starting in September.

And while there are varying claims of how many students have graduated, UCN says the number is nine: one in 2013 and eight in 2014.

BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS files</p><p>Manitoba Education Minister Ian Wishart is ‘focused on getting the best value.’</p></p>

BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS files

Manitoba Education Minister Ian Wishart is ‘focused on getting the best value.’

Now, the University of Manitoba, UCN and Manitoba Education Minister Ian Wishart are trying to pull together a midwifery program that will start barely two months from now with no signed-up faculty and no confirmed classroom space.

What the program does have is 14 students desperately hoping they’ll be able to go into the second year of a four-year program. (They declined through intermediaries to be interviewed, fearing repercussions if they speak out.)

Wishart said recently in question period: "We will be focused on getting the best value. There have been no cuts to this program. There will be a program for them this fall."

But he made it clear the program must have predictability and stability, and "must be deliverable" — graduates’ degrees must be recognized and respected by the profession.

Former NDP premier Greg Selinger promised an additional $844,000 in January to have an annual intake of students, hire permanent faculty and teach midwifery at the UCN campus in Thompson by 2020 — money the Tories are not going to spend.

Wishart said the province has to straighten out the program that already exists and get it working right. "Moving to annual intake, when you have a biennial intake, would not have been a very good move," he said.

As troubled as the program has been since it started a decade ago, the province has kept the cash flowing.

Wishart’s staff said the province provided $259,000 in operating grants the first year in the fall of 2006, and $459,000 each of the next two years. Since 2009, when midwifery classes moved to Winnipeg from Norway House and The Pas, UCN has requested and received $859,000 each year.

It is not clear how UCN arrived at that figure, or why it has not changed.

But UCN has spent tens of thousands of dollars more each year than it has received in provincial funding, even in academic years when no students were enrolled in the midwifery program.

UCN says the program spent a projected $992,000 this September, going up every year for the past five years from $901,900. That includes $947,500 in the 2014-15 school year, when the previous students had graduated, a planned intake of new students was cancelled and expensive seconded faculty had returned to their regular jobs.

It is still unclear how much tuition students paid each year. UCN’s website does not list midwifery fees for 2016-17, though total fees for second-year nursing students this fall with a maximum course load are $6,396.14.

Intakes of first-year students have happened only sporadically, and some years — as is likely in September — sessional instructors delivered courses. And there was an unknown amount of money UCN paid out to settle a lawsuit with four students who sued when the program didn’t deliver what they believed it had promised.

From the fall of 2011 to the spring of 2014, UCN seconded Brandon University psychology Prof. Linda Ross to pull the program together, along with two midwives from the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority as full-time faculty. Their combined annual salaries exceeded $307,000.

The first student didn’t graduate until 2013, although first grad Sandy Howard had been studying midwifery since enrolling in the original class in 2006.

"They had taken in students in Winnipeg in 2010 who had done the first year of the program," Ross said in an interview. "The concern was the students were coming into second year," but all the faculty had left. "I was there for three years to see that first cohort graduate."

One source who spoke without attribution noted, "This was a very disgruntled group of students who complained a lot, but seemed to have the ear of government."

Ross said the program also had an administrative assistant as well as sessional instructors. "The mandate we were given was to provide an education for these students."

UCN leased "program space specifically built and outfitted for midwifery student needs" in the AnX building (former bus depot) at the University of Winnipeg campus, said Ross, who was surprised the program is now trying to find space in the U of M’s nursing building on the Fort Garry campus.

"Surely that space could be put to good use at least this year, even if it is located at the U of Winnipeg. It really is a great space," Ross said.

One source who requested anonymity said, "A lot of money went into that (U of W) space... lots and lots of cash, but that was supposed to be a permanent solution."

The U of W refused comment, referring all questions to UCN.

Ross said the faculty was setting up an intake of first-year students for the fall of 2014 when they were told the intake was cancelled, and UCN and the University of Manitoba would instead begin a joint program in the fall of 2015.

That joint program started last September with 14 students.

The U of M website says under its student counselling section the university does not offer midwifery training. However, the college of nursing faculty lists Prof. Kellie Thiessen as the director of the midwifery program.

Thiessen said by email she is not allowed to speak to the media until a formal announcement is made about the program.

nick.martin@freepress.mb.ca

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History

Updated on Monday, June 27, 2016 at 8:04 AM CDT: Adds photo

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