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Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Local doulas call on hospitals to ease visitor restrictions

Posted By on Wed, Jul 15, 2020 at 9:10 AM

When COVID-19 first hit the Central Coast in mid-March, local hospitals cracked down on visitor policies in an attempt to limit person-to-person contact and stop the spread of coronavirus. In maternity wards, expecting mothers were in most cases allowed a single visitor during childbirth, forcing patients going into labor to choose between family, friends, partners, and hired supporters like doulas.

Although some hospital visitation restrictions have loosened since then, limitations still exist for those going into childbirth. Local doulas are hoping to change that.

HIRED SUPPORT Many local hospitals are still limiting visitations and human-to-human contact as much as possible, including during childbirth. But doulas would like to be allowed back in. - FILE PHOTO
  • HIRED SUPPORT Many local hospitals are still limiting visitations and human-to-human contact as much as possible, including during childbirth. But doulas would like to be allowed back in.
In a letter to SLO County hospitals, a group of certified doulas are calling for protocols that would allow them to safely attend births in addition to any visitors a patient chooses to have present. Although the letter isn’t being shared publicly, Jennifer Vantrease Kinnear, a certified doula and managing mentor of the San Luis Obispo Doula Connection, said local restrictions on visitors have made it near impossible for doulas to provide their usual in-person, physical support services for the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I don’t feel like it’s been a purposeful exclusion as much as it’s just an overwhelming situation,” Kinnear told New Times.

Though doulas provide a variety of physical and mental health services to their patients before, during, and after childbirth, Kinnear said they’re treated like any other visitor under current hospital restrictions.

While all patients at Tenet Health Central Coast hospitals are allowed one visitor a day from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., patients in the labor, delivery, and postpartum units are allowed two designated visitors, but only one can be present at a time. There’s no exception for doulas, and Kinnear said most patients understandably choose to have family members present over doulas.

That’s a shame, Kinnear said, because the support doulas offer—massaging, breathing, talking—can significantly improve the overall experience of giving birth. They also provide a lot of basic monitoring care so that busy nurses don’t have to.

“Doulas can be a significant factor in reducing the load for essential workers,” Kinnear said, which she added is especially important now with the increasing COVID-19 case load.

While Kinnear said the recent surge in COVID-19 cases is troubling, that doesn’t mean doulas shouldn’t be allowed in hospitals. Hospitals—including some within the Dignity Health umbrella—in coronavirus hotspots like New York and Arizona allow certified doulas in addition to designated visitors.

Simple measures like health screenings upon entry, personal protective equipment, and doula certification documentation can help keep patients, doulas, and medical staff safe, Kinnear said, “no matter what our numbers are.”

But local hospitals generally try to stick to Centers for Disease Control and state guidelines, both of which still recommend that mothers in childbirth be allowed a single support person.

That’s why Tenant Health still has restrictions on visitors, according to communications specialist Ara Najarian, who said all local Tenant Health hospitals encourage doulas to support patients virtually on Zoom and other teleconferencing apps. ∆

—Kasey Bubnash
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