Disgruntled former students of the University College of the North's northern midwifery program who launched a lawsuit against the school recently received a settlement offer that was "very deficient," says Audrey Fourre, one of the four plaintiffs.
"UCN has given us a proposal for settlement," said Fourre in an interview with the Nickel Belt News. "It's very deficient. It doesn't even take into account our financial losses."
The lawsuit – whose other plaintiffs are Norah Keeper, Nicole McKinnon and Kim Young – alleges that UCN breached its contract with the students when it was unable to provide the academic and clinical opportunities that the students - based in Norway House and The Pas, needed to graduate from the Northern program, which began in 2006.
Fourre, who started the program in 2006, spent four years as a student, completing most of her academic requirements but falling well short of the number of births that must be attended to be recognized as a licensed midwife. The minimum number of births a student must attend to graduate is 60 and Fourre had attended only 30 by her fourth year.
"We got nothing out of the four years of going to school," said Fourre, a former teacher who funded her education with an $80,000 line of credit. "I think the government didn't get their ducks in a row. I think it was planned too quickly. "
UCN declined to comment on the matter as it was still before the courts, and neither confirmed nor denied that a settlement offer had been made.
The lawsuit plaintiffs had concerns about the program long before they started their court action in 2010, says Fourre, seeking help from the dean of health and former UCN president Denise K. Henning back in 2008. They received little in response at the time and even less once the senior officials in charge of the program at the time were no longer employed by UCN. Following the launching of the lawsuit, Fourre said she couldn't get answers to any of her questions.
"Then they really didn't want to talk to us," Fourre said.
It's unfortunate that provincial government and UCN didn't dedicate more resources to ensuring the success of the Northern midwifery program and the original eight students – five in Norway House and three in The Pas – who were enrolled in the inaugural year. None of those students every graduated from the program, though two - including one of the lawsuit plaintiffs - are continuing their studies following the midwifery program's transfer to Winnipeg in 2010.
"Why did they have to have two locations?" asked Fourre, who says the Northern program was part of a push to repatriate births to mothers' own communities. "They should have just been focusing on the academics and the birth experiences."
And while there was a staff member dedicated to helping students meet their academic and clinical requirements, the task seemed too big just for here.
"They had a manager but she had to be in charge of two different cohorts," said Fourre. "It was pretty challenging just on her part."
Fourre doesn't have plans to complete her education as a midwife as she needs to work to pay off the debt she's already incurred.
"I just can't afford to go back as a full-time student," she said.
Nor does she have the time and energy to fruitlessly chase for answers.
"We've had enough of trying to talk and communicate so we just left it up to our lawyer," said Fourre, who is confident she'll see something from her legal efforts, though she isn't sure when. "I don't know how long things like this take."
Were more forethought put into the Northern program, Fourre figures she could have been a midwife already.
"We could have already been helping a lot of the Northern women already," she says, noting that many expecting women from remote communities have to spend weeks in Winnipeg waiting to give birth while separated from the friends and families. "It's really sad that all that money is gone and no one seems to be caring."
PC MLA Wayne Ewaskso, the party's advanced education critic, laid blame for the failure of the northern midwifery program at the feet of the NDP in a May 7 news release.
"The NDP set up this program without the necessary supports in place and failed to provide the nine students who enrolled in the program with an education," said Ewasko. "What is the plan for students committed to midwifery in this province and how are we going to bring that program back to life?"