Story by: Norton Healthcare on June 20, 2023
Jamia Singleton was 29 weeks pregnant and in labor when in walked Keisha Yates, a doula with Norton Women’s care.
“I was very nervous and hadn’t heard of a doula,” Jamia said. “I’m so glad she was there. I was more calm and relaxed and could actually breathe. She held my hand the whole time.”
Norton Women’s Care launched the Norton Women’s Doula Program — the first program of its kind in Kentucky — in late 2021, with a goal of improving the long-term health of new mothers. This includes helping reduce the impacts of social determinants of health, as well as reduce the risks for pregnancy loss, health complications and even death.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, as part of its Healthy People 2030 initiative to improve health and well-being, has listed social determinants of health as one of its priorities. These are conditions in a person’s environment that lead to risks and outcomes related to health and quality of life.
The role of a doula traditionally has been to serve as a birth coach and provide postpartum support, but the Norton Women’s Doula Program expands upon that. In addition to providing physical, emotional and partner support, doulas connect patients with resources to assist with access to healthy food, housing issues and transportation to and from provider visits. They also provide services after delivery, including home visits during the early part of the fourth trimester — the time following childbirth. Many keep in touch beyond this time.
Eligible patients deliver at Norton Hospital and are patients at Norton OB/GYN Associates, Norton Women’s Specialists or Norton Children’s Maternal-Fetal Medicine, which is part of Norton Women’s Care; they can live in any ZIP code. The program currently employs five doulas, with more being added. The doula program has a unique ability to serve minorities.
“The doula program is focused on providing important services to the community’s most at-risk minority patients,” said Kenneth J. Payne, M.D., OB/GYN with Norton OB/GYN Associates. “The doulas have helped bridge cultural gaps. They’ve helped improve patients’ access to health care and helped increase patients’ willingness to engage with health care.
“They have created strong community connections with patients, which has facilitated better birth experiences and improved health outcomes in the most vulnerable populations.”
According to a 2021 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Black patients are 2 1/2 times more likely to die from a pregnancy-related cause than white women. Women of color are disproportionally at risk for high blood pressure and diabetes, which can lead to issues with pregnancy and childbirth, including developing a heart condition and blood clots.
Doulas can help watch for pregnancy-related health issues and provide a connection to the obstetrician. They’re often also a support person and advocate.
“Keisha is emotional support for me since I wasn’t at all ready to have my son, Arlo, at that time,” Jamia said. “She even helped Arlo’s dad, helping him relax. He was as grateful as I was.”
After Arlo’s birth, Keisha has been there to follow up, helping Jamia prepare for her baby’s discharge from the Norton Children’s Hospital neonatal intensive care unit by getting her set up with a car seat. The entire doula program is made possible through the Norton Healthcare Foundation and Norton Children’s Hospital Foundation, with gifts from Edie Nixon and Aetna Better Health of Kentucky.
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