For nearly six months now since the pandemic hit the Central Coast, expecting mothers have been allowed only a single visitor during childbirth at local hospitals, forcing patients going into labor to choose between family, friends, and hired supporters like doulas. But this fall, some hospitals on the Central Coast are easing visitor restrictions and opening their doors to doulas.
On Sept. 25, local Tenet Health hospitals announced revisions to their in-person visitor policies, allowing patients in labor a certified doula in addition to one designated visitor a day. Shortly after on Oct. 2, French Hospital Medical Center announced a similar policy. The changes are exactly what some local doulas have been fighting for since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.
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- HIRED SUPPORT Months after local hospitals limited visitations to limit the spread of COVID-19, Tenet Health Central Coast and French Hospital Medical Center announced recently that doulas would be allowed back in.
"It's exciting," doula Jennifer Vantrease Kinnear told New Times. "We've had a great journey just in terms of communicating with the hospitals."
Kinnear is the managing mentor of the San Luis Obispo Doula Connection, an organization that works to connect well-trained doulas with expecting mothers. In July, Kinnear and several other doulas associated with the Doula Connection wrote a letter to SLO County Hospitals calling for protocols that would allow them to safely attend births in addition to visitors patients choose to have present. At the time, Kinnear told New Times that hospital restrictions on visitors made it nearly impossible for doulas to provide the in-person, physical support services for which they're hired.
But now, Kinnear said, local doulas have a good deal of practice providing virtual services to mothers giving birth, and that option will still be available for patients who don't feel comfortable having multiple visitors present at their births.
"For birthing families: call doulas," Kinnear said. "There's more options available than there ever have been."
That isn't the case at all hospitals on the Central Coast. Although Marian Regional Medical Center is allowing doulas in addition to one other visitor in its birthing centers, Kinnear said some hospitals in Santa Barbara County continue to have more restrictive visitation guidelines in place, due in part to that county's higher COVID-19 rates. Several hospitals in Santa Barbara County recently opened back up to restricted visitation following the end of a recent surge in cases.
Kinnear said the Doula Connection will continue pushing for safe doula visitations in Santa Barbara County's hospitals.
At local Tenet and Dignity Health hospitals, doulas are allowed to stay with patients through labor and until recovery, but according to Tiffany Rede, assistant director of Perinatal Services at Tenet, all doulas are screened upon entry and required to wear protective gear, follow COVID-19 safety protocols, and have their credentials validated by hospital staff.
Rede said it's nice to have doulas back at Tenet hospitals. They offer valuable services to mothers during the laboring and childbirth process, Rede said, and often act as a liaison between medical staff and patients. Although Rede said most patients have been satisfied with Tenet's virtual options, having to choose between family and doulas left a lot of expecting patients with tough choices to make throughout the pandemic.
"We just see them as an asset," Rede told New Times. Δ