Pregnant amid a pandemic: Expecting mothers are adapting plans with help of local coalition

VERO BEACH — Rachel and Ron Toperzer, like most first-time parents, have cycled through a checklist in preparation for their daughter. 

The Vero Beach couple planned a baby shower, took a handful of childbirth classes and stocked up on wipes before baby Remington arrives next month. 

But, like so many others in the face of the uncertain novel coronavirus pandemic, the Toperzers have adapted their plans to fit into the changing world around them. 

The baby shower became a gift drop-off from family and friends. Birthing classes have moved online. And baby wipes are backlogged or even unavailable on online delivery websites. 

Despite these changes, Rachel and Ron have kept an optimistic attitude and are looking forward to beginning a new journey with one another. 

“I’m ready for her,” said 36-year-old Ron Toperzer. “For me it’s a weird combination of nervous, excited and scared all rolled into one. But I want to meet her.” 

Rachel said they’re as prepared as they can be. 

“I think we’re pretty good,” she said. “Overall, even with all this, it’s been such a good pregnancy.” 

With the help of Indian River County Healthy Start Coalition, a local nonprofit care system that optimizes the health of moms, babies and their families, Rachel Toperzer and many other mothers have continued to receive a helping hand amid the uncertainty. 

As of March 16, the staff at Healthy Start Coalition began working remotely to help reduce person-to-person contact, said the group’s Chief Executive Officer Andrea Berry. 

Under a tight deadline, the staff transformed their program within one week to meet the needs of the moms in their care, Berry said. Online communication platforms like Zoom, Apple FaceTime, and Google Hangouts are utilized to keep constant contact with expecting mothers. 

“There’s a lot of apprehension to walk into the hospital right now,” Berry said. “We’re trying to walk the line and be a calm and influencing voice.” 

Reaching mothers is easier now that the Office for Civil Rights at the Department of Health and Human Services has loosened restrictions for certified telehealth software, Berry said. 

Normally, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act has tight guidelines for how medical professionals can contact their patients or clients outside of an office space. But as COVID-19 has spread, the rules have adapted. 

“Under this notice, covered health care providers may use popular applications that allow for video chats…to provide telehealth without risk that OCR might seek to impose a penalty for noncompliance with the HIPAA rules,” reads the notice from the Office for Civil Rights. 

The HIPAA Privacy Rule establishes national standards to protect individuals’ medical records and other personal health information and applies to health plans, health care clearinghouses, and health care providers that conduct health care transactions electronically.

For mothers who do not have an internet connection, the Coalition can contact them via telephone call, Berry said. 

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