Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, USC Verdugo Hills Hospital has doubled down on its commitment to safely help mothers bring their bundles of joy into the world.
In fact, USC-VHH delivered 61 babies in July, the most it has welcomed in any month in the last seven years and more than double the number of births in the same period in 2019.
Part of the reason for that increase is the hospital’s growing reputation for creating a supportive environment for expectant mothers and fathers and having state-of-the-art medical care, like the neonatal intensive care unit’s specialized staff and equipment to treat ill or premature newborns, USC-VHH officials said. The unit opened in 2018.
“We have developed a wonderful relationship with our obstetricians and created a collaborative, supportive environment for them and the mothers who entrust them to deliver their babies. We have focused on adding additional support, the NICU and laborists, to provide a higher level of care capabilities,” said Kenny Pawlek, USC-VHH’s chief operating officer. “During COVID-19, we’ve stressed safety for our moms, parents, babies, MDs, nursing team and employees.”
To ensure safety among its patients and families during the pandemic, the hospital took measures early on to prevent the spread of infection, such as symptom and temperature checks at the door, as well as COVID-19 testing of mothers prior to their delivery or upon arrival at USC-VHH. In addition, each mother is allowed only one birthing support person during her stay, someone who must be asymptomatic and use personal protective equipment throughout the visit. That person is also required to stay at the hospital for the duration of the delivery, to remove any risk of exposure to the coronavirus while out in the community.
CEO Keith Hobbs noted how happy he is that the community hospital can provide a joyful experience to new parents during a national pandemic.
“During these challenging times of managing the COVID-19 community, seeing a mom and her baby leave the hospital puts a smile on everyone’s face. We’re proud to be part of bringing miracles into this world,” Hobbs said. “It’s fantastic to be returning to our roots as the place to deliver babies in the Glendale, La Cañada Flintridge and Foothill communities. Given the ongoing support and investment by Keck Medicine of USC, we’re excited to offer a safe, personalized and positive birth experience in our community.”
Among the hospital’s new mothers is Tiffany Yzaguirre, who gave birth to a healthy girl, Blake, via cesarean section. Yzaguirre, 25, said she felt the hospital staff was accommodating and that everything went well, even amid the attention focused on the disease.
“In the midst of the coronavirus and pandemic going on, it was a really eerie feeling to be at the hospital, but they took all the precautions they needed to,” Yzaguirre said. “They screened everyone at the door, which was slightly intimidating, but overall it was a great experience.”
Her doctor, Steven Hartford, has delivered babies for 36 years at the hospital. He said USC-VHH has sensible yet strict policies for getting inside and being safe since the coronavirus’ outbreak.
“We’re taking precautions to protect them from exposure,” said Hartford, who has delivered more than 6,000 babies in the community over three decades. “They come in and feel comfortable. It’s kind of business as usual with strict precautions and extra care.”
Susan Hawkes, clinical director of the Women and Family Center at USC-VHH, said the hospital has had an increase in its birth rate despite the pandemic.
“We are an up-and-coming force within the community with our deliveries,” she said.
Hawkes reminded worried expectant mothers to follow the advice of their obstetricians, stay away from the people who are sick and wash their hands often.
“All of those very basic safety precautions with regard to not spreading the virus,” she said, noting that pregnant women should try to be careful and let their partners do the shopping.
“Act like a 65-year-old who’s not supposed to go out,” Hartford, the obstetrician, added.
Yzaguirre said she felt comforted by the hospital’s procedures to take temperature and symptom checks on herself and her husband, Clayton Geer.
“The hospital was generally pretty empty, other than anyone like staff or if they were having some sort of a procedure,” Yzaguirre said. “There wasn’t anyone really walking around. Everyone was secluded to their room.”
The couple also received a steak and lobster dinner with dessert during their stay.
“It was unexpected but cute … I got a card saying congratulations. It was special and nice,” said Yzaguirre. “They took care of us and were super attentive. All the nurses were amazing with advice, support and everything we needed.”
Meanwhile, Hartford noted that although the virus is “weighing heavily” on everybody; the hospital is being proactive and meeting twice a day to update staff on the subject.
“They put out bulletins to medical staff everyday as to what the situations are, what the changes are … what’s new, what to do. We’re all on board and it’s a great team effort,” he said.