‘Women Will Not Be Forced to Be Alone When They Are Giving Birth’

In response to some private hospitals’ decision to bar partners, New York will order all hospitals to allow partners in delivery rooms, despite the coronavirus risk.



By Katie Van Syckle and Christina Caron

Women preparing to give birth at some hospitals in New York City will no longer have to labor alone, nor will they need to remain isolated from their partner or family while recovering in the hospital after delivery, state officials said.

Melissa DeRosa, the secretary to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, announced an executive order would be issued on Saturday requiring all hospitals in New York, both public and private, to comply with the latest guidance issued by the New York State Department of Health.

The order is a response to a decision earlier this week by two major New York City hospital systems, NewYork-Presbyterian and Mount Sinai, to ban support people from labor and delivery rooms because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Women will not be forced to be alone when they are giving birth,” Ms. DeRosa said on Twitter shortly after the pending executive order was announced.

The Department of Health, the regulatory authority over hospitals, had notified hospitals on Friday that they were required to allow one person to accompany a woman throughout labor and delivery.

The NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital network, where about 25,000 infants are delivered each year, and the Mount Sinai Hospital System, both private, had instituted the ban on support persons in response to the coronavirus epidemic, resulting in an outcry from expectant parents, doulas and midwives, and a petition that has received more than 600,000 signatures.

It was not immediately clear that the two hospital networks would follow the directive. Neither immediately changed the policy barring support people that had been posted on their websites.

“I’m days away from my due date, and I’m trying to mentally prepare for both scenarios,” said Kate Dinota, 32, who lives in Queens and plans to give birth at Weill Cornell Medical Center, part of the NewYork-Presbyterian system.

Representatives for Mount Sinai said they were reviewing the guidelines.

“As the pandemic continues to evolve, Mount Sinai Health System is taking proactive measures to provide the safest environment possible to protect our patients, staff and visitors,” Renatt Brodsky, a spokeswoman for the hospital system, said. “We are reviewing the new guidelines but will make the best decisions for our patients, frontline staff and entire community.”

NewYork-Presbyterian did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Dr. Christopher Zahn, the vice president of practice activities for the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, emphasized the value of support persons in labor and delivery rooms in a statement on Friday.

“Evidence suggests that, in addition to regular nursing care, continuous one-to-one emotional support provided by a partner or support personnel such as a doula is associated with improved outcomes for women in labor,” Dr. Zahn said.

He added, “Labor support can be particularly critical for women who already face health care disparities and other barriers to care.”

Jesse Pournaras, a New York City-based doula who brought the petition opposing the new policies, said the decision was a victory on behalf of women giving birth in New York City and beyond.

“It should set the precedent that laboring individuals are entitled to the support of their choosing in labor,” Ms. Pournaras said.

NewYork-Presbyterian changed its policies after pregnant women who were positive for Covid-19 but asymptomatic exposed more than 30 hospital workers to the virus.

Soon after the babies were delivered, the mothers’ conditions “deteriorated very quickly,” and the mothers were admitted to the intensive care unit, said Dr. Mary D’Alton, the chief obstetrician and gynecologist at the NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center in Manhattan.

There is no evidence the infants have contracted the virus.

Flannery Amdahl, 36, a New Yorker who is in her second trimester of pregnancy, has been following the controversy closely.

“It has been so difficult to come to terms with. I have definitely cried over this policy,” she said.

But she said she didn’t fully support the state’s decision to compel hospitals to allow support people in labor and delivery rooms.

“I am torn because on the one hand, it is really scary to think about the possibility of giving birth alone, and not having an advocate in the delivery room,” she said. “However, I don’t think the hospitals made this decision lightly, at all. They recognize that medical personnel are risking their own lives to just be there.”

Jesse McKinley contributed reporting from Albany.

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