‘Every community should have one’: newborn baby warmers coming to remote First Nations

Two northern Ontario First Nation communities will soon have mobile baby warmers for those born at nursing stations.

A baby warmer is a portable bed with a warming light over top, with open sides and controlled temperature settings – unlike an  incubator which is an enclosed environment with stricter controls regarding temperature.

It will be the first time baby warmers will be situated in remote and isolated First Nation communities.

In some communities, which report as many as 25 births per year, these baby warmers are a welcomed medical device.

The two warmers will be placed in Sandy Lake and Pikangikum First Nation, the result of a in October 2018.

baby warmers

(A baby warmer similar to this will be supplied to two First Nations in Ontario)

However, neither of the First Nations were aware of the purchases until APTN News informed them.

“That will be a good thing but we will probably need better training if that happens,” said Lawrence Peters, health director of Pikangikum First Nation, referring to community nurses being able to utilize the equipment.

‘Essential pieces of equipment’

Due to either weather or distance, when expecting mothers do not make it to hospitals or go into preterm labour, some end up giving birth inside a nursing station.

In such situations, mobile baby warmers are needed at nursing stations because a newborn’s body temperature can drop significantly after leaving a mother’s womb.

If heat is lost too quickly, a baby can go under what’s called ‘cold stress,’ which can lead to hypoxia and even death.

(The health centre in Pikangikum)

While it’s good news, one family doctor wonders why only two First Nation communities will have these medical devices.

“I’m happy that the government is placing these essential pieces of equipment in these two nursing stations,” said Dr. Michael Kirlew, a physician based in Sioux Lookout, Ont.

“I would significantly encourage them [the government] in making sure these essential pieces of equipment are available at all nursing stations.”

Kirlew added that for such critical pieces of equipment, the communities’ health directors should have been engaged in the process of making these decisions.

baby warmers

(Dr. Michael Kirlew says every community should be equipped with a baby warmer) 

A spokesperson with Indigenous Services Canada (ISC) explained in an email that Sandy Lake and Pikangikum First Nations are getting the baby warmers “because of their high population leading to a higher number of births.”

When asked whether or not there were any past fatal experiences due to cold stress or hypoxia and newborns, the department only said the baby warmers are required to mitigate any risk, due to births in communities.

Watch Jamuna Galay-Tamang’s APTN Investigates’ documentary, ‘Colonial Tea’ here.

ISC provides services to 23 nursing stations, most of them accessed by air, water or winter road.

Contractors awarded the tender notice will not require to have the mobile baby warmers to have a medical device license, and the tender notice will also  be awarded to the lowest bid.

The successful bidder will also be required to provide training once the mobile baby warmers are situated in the communities. Servicing the equipment was also included in the bid.

Both baby warmers are to be installed by March 31.

‘Every community should have one’

The funding for just two First Nation communities doesn’t sit well with everyone.

baby warmers

(Sachigo Lake First Nation Health Director Ellen Tait)

Ellen Tait, health director with Sachigo Lake First Nation, an Oji-Cree community in northern Ontario with a population of 500, would also embrace one for her community.

“Because we’re so far up north and it would take hours to get medical help,” Tait said, adding “every community should have one.”

Expecting mothers from the community currently get flown to Sioux Lookout to deliver their babies.

Draeger Medical Canada, Inc., a Mississauga, Ont., medical and safety technology supplier was awarded the tender.