Norton Women’s Care soon will offer a new doula program that aims to improve the long-term health of new mothers. The program, which will begin this fall, will be made possible thanks in part to a $250,000 gift to the Norton Children’s Hospital Foundation from Aetna Better Health of Kentucky. While doulas are welcome in many birthing hospitals, this is the first program in Kentucky that employs doulas as part of the care team.
“Traditionally, doulas employed by hospitals have served as birth coaches and postpartum support, but our new program will expand the role,” said Mary L. Schubert, DNP, MSN, system vice president, women’s services, Norton Healthcare. “Eligible patients will have someone who can help 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 part of its five goals. These are conditions in a person’s environment that lead to risks and outcomes related to health and quality of life.
“Doulas are uniquely qualified to assist in identifying and reducing some social determinants of health, serving as educators, advisers and even medical translators for pregnant patients both in providers’ offices and in homes,” said Melissa S. Redick, director of provider operations, Norton Medical Group. “It goes beyond actual care and to other issues.”
In addition to providing physical, emotional and partner support, these doulas will be able to connect patients with resources to assist with access to healthy food, transportation to and from provider visits, housing and legal issues.
According to a 2021 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Black patients are two and a half 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 swelling of the heart and blood clots.
“To improve maternal health and well-being in this community, we must further improve care for women of color,” Schubert said.
This new program will include several home visits throughout the patient’s pregnancy and the period after delivery. Eligible patients must live in the California, Portland or Russell neighborhood, and will receive additional prenatal care through Norton OB/GYN Associates and Norton Women’s Specialists downtown practices, with babies delivered at Norton Hospital. Initially, the program will employ three doulas.
“Aetna Better Health of Kentucky is excited to begin this journey with the Norton Children’s Hospital Foundation,” said Paige Mankovich, chief operating officer, Aetna Better Health of Kentucky. “We are committed to supporting our communities by aligning our resources to help address critical health needs.
“Partners like Norton Healthcare make initiatives like this new doula program not only possible, but effective. We appreciate the passion they are bringing to the creation of this program and look forward to this program helping pregnant women in West Louisville.”
“We know that the health of a mother has an effect on the health of the baby, so this will also help improve infant health,” said Lecresha Sewell, APRN, Norton Women’s Health, who helped design the doula program. “And by following the patient after childbirth, a doula can help detect many complications that may occur in what we refer to as ‘the fourth trimester.’ Early detection is essential to improve health outcomes.”
“We expect this program to complement the obstetrics services we already offer in downtown Louisville, improving the entire pregnancy, childbirth and early parenthood experience,” said Cara L. Bland, regional practice manager, Norton Medical Group. “Ultimately, the goal is to improve the long-term health of our new moms.”