Midwives, patients push for clarity on companions at childbirth during COVID-19 crisis

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Quebec Premier Francois Legault says a Montreal hospital's ban of a companion during childbirth won't extend to other hospitals in the province.

A website for the regional health authority CIUSSS West-Central Montreal, whose network includes the Jewish General Hospital, states "the partner or a designated person is not permitted at the time of delivery and for the postpartum period."

The policy received swift reaction from patients and care providers who say the prospect of delivering a baby alone is traumatic for some women, and having a companion present during childbirth is part of the World Health Organization's COVID-19 guidelines.

Legault said Jewish General implemented the rule because it's dealing with "many" novel coronavirus cases. Quebec's health minister previously said a partner of a woman about to give birth at the hospital was infected with COVID-19 and showing symptoms.

"We are looking at, for women who want to change hospitals, to be able to change hospitals," Legault said at his news conference Monday.

"But, at the Jewish General Hospital, there are many cases of COVID-19, so there are good reasons for this rule, but I want to be very clear, there is no intention of the government (to) extend these bans to other hospitals.

"So I want to reassure all the women who are pregnant. Besides the Jewish General Hospital, you will be able to bring your partner with you during childbirth."

Officials at the Jewish General have not responded for a request for comment.

Quebec Health Minister Danielle McCann said Saturday that she understands why the hospital implemented the rule.

"It was a very, very, very difficult episode," McCann said. "Other hospitals in Quebec and, in general, people can accompany the woman who is giving birth but I think the Jewish General was completely taken aback and very concerned about this situation."

The WHO's guidelines on COVID-19 and pregnancy state that all pregnant women have the right to a safe and positive childbirth, including "Having a companion of choice present during delivery."

The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Quebec has reached 8,580, and 121 Quebecers have died, health authorities announced Monday.

Labour unions and several associations representing Quebec midwives pleaded with the provincial government to take a strong stand on the issue of allowing companions at the time of delivery.

In a news release published Sunday, the groups said having someone in the room with a woman in labour is critical for a smooth delivery. The groups said professionals in the health care system were ready to resign if the hospital's decision isn't reversed.

"We are raising an alarm: this directive goes too far," the news releases stated. "It serves neither the population nor professional health workers."

The groups said they understand the anxiety of health care workers being exposed to COVID-19 but they said the proper response is to provide workers with more protective equipment as opposed to introducing punitive and controversial measures.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 6, 2020.

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