Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Canadians Get Neonatal Care in Michigan, Montana, Washington, and New York

What would Michael Moore say? Sometimes the Canadian health care system can't meet the needs of its patients. Still the government finds a way to provide the needed care. The Globe and Mail reports that "women with high-risk pregnancies in three provinces have been sent at taxpayers' expense to give birth in the United States, where fragile infants spend weeks to months in hospital neonatal intensive-care units."

Pregnant women from British Columbia, Ontario, and Alberta have been cared for in four states, including Michigan. The practice stems from a nurse shortage, increase in premature births and an overburdened health care system in Canada. The women receiving US care typically begin labor before 32 weeks gestation. Babies that young need the highest level of neonatal care, which Canadian hospitals do provide. But when neonatal units are filled to capacity, women are sent by air ambulance to the US.

Once the babies are born, they stay here for extended periods receiving care in US hospitals. This creates a burden on the mothers who must find housing at their own expense in the US or commute across the border to be with their infants.

The babies are also entitled to US citizenship.

The Canadian priority seems to be providing care for its citizens. This situation points up weaknesses in the current Canadian system and may even be used to bolster arguments for privatization. Or, cooler heads may see it as a chance to improve a system that works fairly well. We in the US should not feel smug that our resources are being utilized by Canadians. On the contrary, we might learn from their commitment to public health and universal health care.