Preparing for the delivery for a child is a nerve-wrenching experience for all expectant mothers, but in the past year, pregnant women around the world have had to also grapple with the anxiety arising from the COVID-19 pandemic.
For mums-to-be in Hong Kong, the uncertainty was multiplied, when public hospitals in Hong Kong banned all visitors, including companions in the delivery wards, to curb a surge in COVID-19 cases in early 2020. (The ban was eventually lifted in early 2021.) The measure was introduced with the aim of reducing the risk of infection in hospitals, but also meant that pregnant women would not have the support of their spouses or other family members throughout their labour, a terrifying thought for many.
Striking the balance
Ms Debbie Tong, General Manager of Business Development at Hong Kong’s private Matilda International Hospital, recalled receiving a lot of calls from concerned pregnant ladies who were scheduled for delivery at public hospitals. “They were all feeling very worried about their partner not being able to accompany them during the delivery,” she said.
Taking these into consideration, the hospital did not set a ban on companions in delivery wards, but put in place a series of comprehensive infection control measures to ensure safety.
“It is important to strike the balance between the preventative measures and the support that the patients can get during this challenging time, therefore we allow visitors though infection control measures and restrictions have to be in place,” said Ms Tong, who managed the patient service team. “There is no doubt that support from family or friends contribute to the patient experience and recovery.”
Defence against infection
The decision to allow companions meant that the hospital had to keep up a rigorous infection control regime, no easy task against an invisible yet formidable enemy like COVID-19.
To this end, Ms Tong highlighted that staff training and education were strengthened at Matilda, with infectious diseases experts roped in.
In terms of the number of visitors, the hospital currently allows two named adult visitors per private room, and one named adult visitor per patient in shared rooms. There is a ban on children visiting, and no visitors are allowed in the nursery.
Besides the standard temperature checks, health questionnaires and hand sanitisation, patients are required to do a COVID-19 PCR test before admission, while all visitors and doctors undergo a Rapid Antigen Test upon arrival.
The sheer number of COVID tests that were conducted on patients, doctors and visitors raised the need for a system to keep track of data. The Hospital’s Innovation and Technology Department developed a new computer application that allowed staff to search and access COVID test results easily.
With this string of new measures, frontline staff have had to spend more time explaining the measures and the rationale behind them. However, the extensiveness of these measures has contributed to the hospital’s COVID-free status so far, and raised patient confidence.
In February 2020, Matilda set up a special maternity package – outbreak response to support expecting mothers hoping to switch from public hospitals. This special maternity package successfully increased the number of maternity admission by 7%, as compared to the previous year.
Forming a bond with patients
Looking back, Ms Tong feels a deep sense of achievement in the bonds she has built with the many expectant mums she cared for, and facilitating their smooth deliveries during the peak of the pandemic.
One lady that she remembers clearly is Evonne, a first-time mum-to-be. “We had a long conversation about the services and throughout her pregnancy we kept close contact until she delivered,” recalled Ms Tong. While she was not able to visit Evonne physically at the hospital due to visitor restrictions, the two continued to keep in touch after her discharge. Months later, they finally met at a media event, where Evonne was invited to share her pregnancy story. “It was my first time meeting her in person after so many months and she even came all the way from the New Territories, with her lovely baby boy, to the Peak for the interview,” Ms Tong said. She was touched by Evonne’s testimonial, where she thanked Matilda staff for the personal and home-like care she has experienced.
While hospitals have not had it easy at all during the pandemic, appreciation from patients have made the day for healthcare professionals like Ms Tong. “I felt that the pandemic has enabled us to connect closer with our patients,” she said. “It is great to know that that our support during this difficult time was truly appreciated by the patients we cared for.”