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Staying well together: Birth Center adapting to make sure most vulnerable are safe


During a time when most Americans worry about health risks from COVID-19, staff at the Franciscan Family Birth Center focus on caring for some of the most vulnerable members of our society.

While they safeguard the health of mothers and newborns, these health care professionals also work to protect their co-workers and anyone who passes through the doors of the labor and delivery department at 20201 S. Crawford Ave. in Olympia Fields, according to Joan Culver, director of Patient Care Services.

A registered nurse and longtime Franciscan employee, Culver said staff reacted rapidly when COVID cases spiked in spring 2020, reviewing every aspect of operations.

“Things happened very quickly, like they did for everyone,” she said. “Our first steps were to make sure everyone was safe in our department — patients and staff. That’s been our No. 1 priority all along.”

Even though they have to stay behind masks and other PPE, staff at the Franciscan Family Birth Center sent a message of comfort to patients at the start of the pandemic: We are here for you and your baby. (Provided photo)

Some aspects of the safety and sanitation procedures already in place had to be enhanced. Staff wear masks all the time now — surgical masks during regular patient interactions and N95 masks while assisting during births.

Coronavirus is transmitted by aerosols, and a birth is a highly aerosolized medical procedure, said obstetrician Dr. Christal West, who treats women at the Family Birth Center.

“We want the mother to be masked, but it’s difficult with mothers pushing and trying to deliver the baby,” West said. “Oftentimes the mother will tear the mask off because she can’t breathe. This puts the staff at higher risk.”

Another change came in limiting family members present during a delivery. Culver said only a woman’s spouse or partner can be with her, along with one birth coach, and they must have regular health screenings.

“No one should give birth alone,” Culver said. “We just want to be sure that whoever is here to support Mom is healthy and available to her.”

Parents enjoy a Celebration Meal after the birth of their child, Culver said, and moms get a snack box with goodies to grab whenever they get hungry.

New parents get special treatment in the comfortable Family Birthing Center at Franciscan Health in Olympia Fields. (Provided photo)

Family members are encouraged to visit virtually, though a policy against visitors at the start of the pandemic has been relaxed slightly, Culver said.

Some early pregnancy checkups can happen virtually, but West said moms must make in-person visits to the Family Birth Center to track their baby’s health as it grows in the womb. 

Recognizing they might not have the option to quarantine during pregnancy, West advises pregnant women to be as careful as possible outside their bubble.

“It’s hard for people to stay home, especially if they’re working women,” West said. “Many of our patients are essential workers, and a lot of them could not stop working during the pandemic.”

Though the past year has challenged staff at Franciscan’s Family Birth Center, Culver said the joy of giving birth and witnessing new life has remained among moms, their partners, and staff.

“For most people, this (giving birth) has been the best thing that happened to them in the last year,” Culver said.

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