Before COVID, Tory Asfahani, MPH, LCCE, and her co-workers taught mostly in-person classes at the four hospitals in the Inova Health System that offer maternity services, a total of 13 classes. Plus, they also offered InJoy’s Understanding Birth and Understanding Cesarean Birth online eClasses. They had brochures of class options available when parents came in for their hospital tour.  They also had a physician liaison who delivered these brochures to the physicians and other providers who make them available for their patients.  The word got out very effectively and classes filled up.

Then came COVID. By mid-March it was clear to Tory that in-person classes would need to be canceled and some other form of education would need to be put in place.  Since they already had Understanding Birth and Understanding Cesarean Birth available as eClasses, that bought them a little time.  They added Understanding PregnancyUnderstanding Your Newborn, and Understanding Breastfeeding quickly.  These stand-alone, self-directed learning eClasses met the needs of many students.  But Tory said that in order to reach the learning needs of all their students, they also created virtual classes for several of the classes they had to cancel. These classes were structured around Zoom sessions.

With the shock and changes associated with COVID, it was necessary to help parents find classes that would work for them. Making sure the message about learning options got out there became a priority for Tory and her co-workers, especially since many parents had assumed there would be no classes due to social distancing.  The ability to take a class could help parents feel a sense of control and also alert them to the changes they could expect in the hospital, including rules that were changing.

Four months into the pandemic, the educational opportunity brochure that lists the website, phone number, and email address for the Childbirth Education and WellBaby department is still going out to physicians and other provider offices.  All the new options can be found in the registration area of Inova’s website. The Women’s Services Line at the four hospitals came up with a unique community outreach program that involved free webinars two times a month on various topics, including experts in fitness, physical therapy, pediatrics, behavioral health, lactation, and more.  At the beginning of each of these offerings, as people are logging into Zoom, there is a series of rotating slides that show all the educational classes available.  They have had high attendance at the webinars and because of that, many have learned that classes are still available.

Due to the number of virtual classes available in any one topic, they have had to increase the size of the classes from 10 couples to 15 couples.  Classroom space is no longer an issue, so it is working out well.  Tory said they don’t want them to get too big because it loses the connection between the instructor and students. Many of their classes are full and they even have students from other hospitals signing up. 

Using class rosters, the educators can reach out the students individually or as a class to be sure the students feel connected to them and the hospital – and more importantly, to make sure the students feel a sense of community.  Virtual new mom’s support groups also help create community. One New Mom’s Group is being held at each of the four hospitals. There are also a new Parent’s Group for moms and dads and a Working Mom’s group.  A Pregnancy Support Group has just started at the request of the community.  Tory said they are also thinking of including a virtual class to go with their eClasses to ensure everyone’s questions are answered.

Surveys are sent out after each class, and although the response rate is lower than they would like, they’ve received a lot of ideas for other classes and feedback on ways to improve current classes.  They may start other classes based on needs expressed in the survey responses.

Since no one can answer the questions about when in-person classes will become the norm, Tory says they will continue offering the eClasses and virtual classes they have and will add more as needed.  When asked if they will continue to offer online classes when things do return to normal, Tory said, “YES, we will definitely continue to offer the eClasses and live virtual classes, in addition to the in-person classes.”  One thing learned from the pandemic is that online classes can be really convenient and beneficial for a lot of students.  This may even increase the percentage of educated parents even after the pandemic is a memory.

Tory says that “part of what makes our childbirth program so successful is the teamwork across hospitals and across departments – promoting the classes and providing as many resources as possible to parents. I truly believe that without the teamwork we would not be nearly as successful as we are.”  Feel free to take these ideas to use in your own program. 

For additional information, contact Tory at [email protected].

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