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United Way of Lancaster County


Officials visit Patients R Waiting, tout efforts to expand doula assistance in Pa.

Dr. Deb Bogen, left, acting Pa. Secretary of Health, speaks about doulas at Patients R Waiting in Lancaster on Tuesday, March 26, 2024. Listening are, from left, doula Kaiyan Christian, Dr. Sharee Livingston and Human Services Secretary Dr. Val Arkoosh. (Photo: Anna Smucker)

Pennsylvania’s top health and human services officials toured a Lancaster nonprofit on Tuesday to highlight its efforts to expand doula access in underserved communities and the work of Gov. Josh Shapiro’s administration to allow doula coverage under Medicaid.

“Doulas have a critical role on a person’s maternity care team,” Human Services Secretary Dr. Val Arkoosh said during her and Acting Health Secretary Dr. Debra Bogen’s visit to Patients R Waiting. Based at Lancaster’s Southern Market Center, Patients R Waiting works to expand opportunities for minority students pursuing medical careers.

Its Diversifying Doulas Initiative, launched in 2020, has increased the number of non-White doulas in Lancaster from 1 to 38, founding board member Dr. Sharee Livingston said, and it has fully subsidized doula care for 300 women.

Bogen cited a study showing that doula-assisted mothers were four times less likely to have a low-birth-weight baby, two times less likely to experience birth complications and more likely to breastfeed.

Recognizing the importance of doulas, Arkoosh said, Pennsylvania has changed its regulations to allow doulas, provided they are state-certified, to enroll as providers in Pennsylvania’s Medicaid program and bill directly for services.

The Department of Human Services strongly encourages all doulas to obtain certification, she said. To promote access, the Pennsylvania Doula Commission is offering a scholarship to cover the application fee for those with financial hardship.

“We need to support increased diversity in the health care workforce at all levels,” Arkoosh said.

Kaiyan Christian, owner of Kaiyan’s Comfort Doula Services, said the Diversifying Doulas initiative enabled her to serve 22 women last year. Thanks to the doula who assisted her with her own delivery in 2022, she was able to have natural, non-medicated birth, she said.

In Pennsylvania there are 82 pregnancy-associated deaths per 100,000 live births and Black women are twice as likely to die within a year of pregnancy than White women. The professional birth support that doulas provide can bring those numbers down, Livingston said.

“Doulas are the connecting bridge between the social services and health care community for marginalized and vulnerable people,” Livingston said, and “that’s what they need.”