The COVID-19 Maternity Task Force has issued its recommendations to support pregnant mothers and their newborns during the pandemic. Secretary to Andrew Cuomo, Melissa DeRosa, said the governor has accepted the recommendations in full.
COVID-19 has changed the way women give birth. The task force was convened by the state Health Department to help improve outcomes for moms and newborns during this pandemic, which has already stressed hospitals.
"COVID-19 has caused enormous stress for women and expecting parents who are preparing to bring a child into this world in the midst of this global pandemic," said DeRosa. "The policies being advanced today will be implemented immediately to address the very valid fears and concerns that so many women are now facing, and to address issues that impact pregnancy and infants."
Rev. Diann Holt, founder and executive director of Buffalo's Durham Baby Cafe, was the only member from Western New York.
"We needed to give deep thought and come up with alternative ways of serving pregnant women during this crisis," said Holt, "and the only way to do that was to reach out to individuals who were smack-dead, flat-foot in the middle of the crisis with them."
Members quickly went to work and came up with six major recommendations. One mandates all pregnant women be tested for the virus. Two allows a support person for the duration of a hospital stay.
"Women were more afraid of birthing their children alone than they were of the COVID virus," she said. "One mother went into the hospital. They would not allow her husband or her dula tocome in. The dula sat in the car and she coached the mother over the telephone, and I know that must have been horribly, horribly difficult to do."
In addition to leading the Baby Cafe, Holt is a licensed doula.
"We had one doula who the mom stayed home until the last minute and then by the time she called, she was in active labor," Holt said. "Mom got on the toilet - probably the worst thing she could do - and that's where she delivered her child."
Holt said mother and child are doing well.
The state is also allowing the establishment of birthing surge sites, giving additional choices for moms-to-be, and will streamline the process for community health centers and federally qualified health centers - which serve low-income patients - to convert unused space into labor and delivery sites in an emergency.
"In a birthing center, a surge center or an alternative center, mom can have a midwife. Mom can have a doula. Mom can have her husband. Mom can have a physician, because usually there's a physician attached to those centers, but you have to keep in mind that midwives can do the same thing as physicians can do," she said. "My concern was I didn't want to see upper, middle-class facilities coming up that African American women and women of color and those who did not have adequate income or insurance could not utilize those facilities. They had to be open to everyone."
Holt said an educational campaign also accompanies the recommendations.
"Everytime I think about this virus and the African American community, it just upsets me that the messaging is not always as crystal clear as it should be," Holt said. "There are a lot of people in our community they'll say, 'I don't have hypertension' and I'll say, 'Do you take blood pressure pills? Is your blood pressure high?' 'Oh yeah, I got that.' 'Then you have hypertension.' 'They keep talking about diabetes. I don't have diabetes.' 'Did anybody ever say you have sugar?' 'Oh yeah, I got that. I take medicine for sugar.' 'Then you've got diabetes.' If message sent is not message received, then you did not communicate."
The task force will continue through the pandemic, with special emphasis on reducing racial disparities in maternal mortality.