High Gas Prices Make Maternity Care Almost Out of Reach in British Columbia’s Far North

High gas prices are making life more expensive for a pregnant woman in northern British Columbia, who says she has to travel hundreds of miles for ultrasound appointments.

Stephanie Roberts lives with her husband and two children in Fort Nelson, in the far north of British Columbia, about 130 kilometers south of the British Columbia-Yukon border.

She is currently nine weeks pregnant with their third child and has to travel to Fort St. John for maternity care – a nearly 800 kilometer round trip.

With fuel prices rising, Roberts worries about the impact these trips will have on his budget. In the past, a trip to Fort St. John could cost less than $100, but with prices reaching 200 cents per liter or more, she estimates a round trip will cost more than $150.

Roberts says her family lives mostly on one income, and even a small increase in spending puts a strain on their finances.

“It’s just crazy,” Roberts said. “It was hard enough to find the money to go there for the day for an ultrasound and now with the price of gas I might have to cancel my appointment.”

Lack of medical care is a recurring problem

The Fort Nelson maternity hospital was closed in 2012, but pregnant women had made trips outside the community for prenatal care for years before.

Women also receive a form advising them to leave the community at least a month before giving birth because Fort Nelson lacks the resources to give birth safely.

The driving distance from Fort Nelson to Fort St. John, BC is nearly 400 kilometers one way. (Google Maps)

Gary Foster, mayor of the Northern Rockies Regional Municipality, says he’s heard many stories of people having to pay the travel costs for such appointments.

He said the lack of access to prenatal and obstetric care is a small example of how northerners lack access to essential health services more generally.

“Sometimes what happens is people forgo their medical treatments, not just for maternity but for other things because they think they can’t afford to travel out of the country multiple times. city ​​to get the treatment they need,” he said. “It’s a huge challenge for people.”

Transportation options in the North are not enough

The Northern Health Authority provides a weekly bus for patients who need to travel from Fort Nelson to other communities for medical appointments, but Roberts says that’s not a realistic option for her because there are no guarantee that the bus schedule will align with his medical appointments.

Moreover, taking the bus would require her to stay at least two nights in a hotel, which would mean that her husband would have to take time off from work to take care of their other children.

Roberts says her family depends on one income, which means spending more than $150 on gas to get ultrasounds and other prenatal care can have a major impact on their budget. (Photo submitted by Stephanie Roberts)

In a statement emailed to CBC, Northern Health said it recognizes “the disruption and financial impact pregnant or pregnant women are traveling to give birth gifts.” Northern Health also provides a list of hotels that offer discounted accommodations for people traveling for medical appointments.

The British Columbia Ministry of Health directs people who need to travel for medical care to the province’s Travel Assistance Program, which offers partial reimbursement to people seeking maternity care.

However, the only option available in Fort Nelson is flights via Central Mountain Air, which requires passengers to make a stopover in Vancouver before returning to Fort St. John, with a total round trip costing over $800 over several days.

If maternity services cannot be provided in Fort Nelson, Roberts says the province should provide more support for families who must travel for these appointments, either in the form of covered fuel costs or an allowance. for daily expenses.