NASSAU, BAHAMAS — Some postpartum mothers have yet to hold their newborns in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at Princess Margaret Hospital as COVID-19 restrictions at healthcare facilities continue.
A local human rights group is calling on the Public Hospital’s Authority (PHA) to put forward a clear policy on care for parents and newborns that prioritizes their health and wellbeing and safeguards against undue trauma.
“Since the first COVID-19 case was confirmed in The Bahamas, hospital operations have changed in the interest of public health,” said Equality Bahamas, in a statement.
“It is, however, inconceivable that there is no protocol in place for mothers to care for or visit their babies in the NICU. At present, there are mothers who have never held their babies (now weeks old) and are not permitted to see them in the NICU.
“They have not been given information regarding possible changes to this policy.”
The organization stressed the importance of the interaction with babies and parents in the early days of their development – including skin-to-skin contact which can help keep babies warm, regulate their breathing and heartbeat; but also allow mothers to produce more breastmilk, reduce stress, and create a bond.
It noted that NICUs around the world have implemented strict COVID-19 policies which include testing for all staff and a one-vistor-at-a-time rule.
Pointing to procedures at the Cleveland Clinic Children’s, Equality Bahamas noted that COVID-19 negative parents, one at a time, are permitted to visit their babies.
The NICU is also equipped with cameras – allowing parents to see their babies at all times – and uses video conference technology to involve parents in doctors’ rounds.
Additionally, mothers with COVID-19 can share a room with their babies as long as they are six feet apart with a curtain between them.
“The current policy at Princess Margaret Hospital is unusual, cruel, and needs to be revised,” the statement continued.
“Mothers have made it clear that they are grateful to hospital staff, especially doctors and nurses, for their care. They know the policy is coming from PHA. They need to meet and care for their babies. They deserve to know what is happening, why and, at the very least, be told when they will be able to see their babies who, at this time, need extra care.”
Equality Bahamas demanded that the PHA explain the rationale of the excessive restrictions and provide a timeline or set of conditions upon which the circumstances will change.
“COVID-19 has already complicated pregnancy, childbirth, and parenting, and it is the responsibility of the PHA to ensure that mothers and newborns are not caused further harm, the group added.
“Women are forced to give birth or endure surgery without the support of a loved one. Having a baby in need of specialized medical attention in NICU is an unexpected development.
“Denial of the right to see their babies is an act of undeniable cruelty that affects both parents and babies.
“…We call on PHA to implement protocol that allows parents to visit their babies
“Equality Bahamas calls on PHA to acknowledge the harm it has caused, extend an apology, offer mental health support to mothers who have endured this traumatic experience, and work expediently to revise protocol.”