Cianna Lyon, a fully vaccinated Lethbridge woman who is 35 weeks pregnant with her first child, said it’s a “very taxing time” to be expecting “with the health-care system the way it is right now.”
Adding to the stress is an Alberta health order from July — brought to light by a Calgary doctor on social media Saturday — saying people who test positive for COVID-19 are allowed to be with the maternity patient during their hospital stay as an essential or designated support person.
“It made my heart sink,” Lyon said Sunday.
“I don’t want to knowingly put my infant in that situation, but unfortunately, I don’t have a choice. I have to deliver my baby.”
Exemptions for support people — like individuals who are symptomatic or under isolation after testing positive for COVID-19 — have been given since July and are granted under “exceptional circumstances” and only at the request of the patient giving birth, AHS said.
COVID-19-positive support people must follow protocols, which include letting the facility know prior to arrival, wearing a mask and being physically distant from everyone except for mom and baby, according to AHS.
Lyon called it a poor policy decision.
“I couldn’t believe that senior health officials were making these decisions, and it felt like, regardless or not if it was actually intentional, that they were intentionally putting me, other pregnant moms and newborn babies at risk,” she said.
“I feel like at all costs, especially because we know that pregnant women and infants are so vulnerable to severe outcomes from COVID, that all precautions should be taken.”
‘Doing the best they can’
Red Deer obstetrician-gynecologist Dr. Aaron Pink said COVID-19-positive support people are instructed to wear a mask at all times and limit their coming and going, so “nobody’s freely walking through the halls or exposing themselves to other people.”
Staff are using appropriate personal protective equipment and changing in between patients, he said.
“There are definitely some factors. I mean, when you’re in a room with a COVID-positive patient, even with appropriate PPE, there still is some risk to yourself,” Pink said.
“As the obstetrician on call, I would be taking care of multiple people, so once again, going through all the protocols of donning and doffing our protective equipment appropriately, the risk is definitely minimized. But those patients are kept separate from patients that are not COVID positive.”
He noted vaccine status is not factored into rooming decisions.
Despite these efforts, Pink said doctors are stuck between a rock and a hard place.
“I do think that, for the greater safety of all, a policy where COVID-positive support people were not allowed in the hospital would be the safest measure,” he said.
“To limit the spread to susceptible people, including the babies being born… I do not think that COVID-positive support people should be in the hospital.”
Still, Pink thinks a hospital is one of the safest environments in which to give birth.
“I would definitely encourage people, despite the reservations — which I fully understand — to trust that their health-care providers are keeping their best interests in mind and doing the best they can to help them out through a very difficult time,” he said.
‘It’s not just me’
Lyon does not feel safe giving birth under these circumstances.
“I felt like I had to speak out because it’s not just me; it’s every pregnant woman and newborn baby in there who deserve protection,” she said.
“I absolutely recognize the need for labouring moms to have the person of their choice there, but it doesn’t give me comfort.
“I don’t want to knowingly walk into a maternity ward or an obstetrical unit knowing that there could be COVID-positive people there.”
Lyon said she has taken every precaution to keep herself safe during her pregnancy.
“I just feel like all the effort that I’ve put in over the last nine months is kind of null and void because when I get there, I can’t manage or control who I’m exposed to,” she said.
‘All people deserve care’: AHS
AHS said the decision was made because “we know the importance of having support at this time. This is a critical part of our approach to patient-centred care.”
“The essential support person otherwise must follow chief medical officer of health isolation orders. They must travel directly to the health-care facility with no stops in between,” AHS said.
“We strongly recommended all essential and designated support persons be fully immunized and physically and mentally able to assist the patient and staff with patient care.”
AHS told Global News on Sunday: “Across Alberta, exemptions for symptomatic or COVID-positive individuals to accompany a maternity patient into a health-care facility as an essential support person are very rare. These exemptions are only granted in exceptional circumstances for the benefit of the maternity patient and after a thorough assessment of all risk factors and mitigation strategies.”
Since the pandemic’s start, the health authority said staff members have “safely supported COVID-positive maternity patients and their infants through delivery and postpartum, following the protocols that also apply to COVID-positive essential support persons.”
“All people deserve care, and every step is taken to protect them and other patients on the unit,” the statement said.
“During their time on the unit, great lengths are taken to keep symptomatic or COVID-positive individuals separate from other patients.”
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