Fertility Staff Perspectives During COVID-19
Let’s preface this by saying, we are not COVID-19 experts. If you’re looking for expertise, regarding safety guidelines, quarantine procedures, or mask selection, please go to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Coronavirus page.
What we are here to talk about is how COVID-19 is affecting those entrusted to help fertility patients conceive.
COVID-19 Has Changed the Landscape of Fertility Treatment
COVID-19 has left seemingly indelible marks on our everyday lives. The visuals are everywhere; the masks, the marks on the floor to indicate where to stand safely, the omnipresent plexiglass, the signs restricting amounts of things we can purchase, and on and on. The people who we’ve lost to this disease is the most painful visual of all.
Conversations between friends and colleagues seem endless too - what’s safe, what’s not, and how to tell the difference. What to trust, who to trust, and whether there is agreement or divisiveness between those we’re in contact with about how to stay healthy.
What We Can Agree On About COVID-19
There is general agreement on two critical points- one, being the necessity of containing a deadly virus and two, avoiding spikes in occurrences.
To the second point, there is already evidence that states reopening are seeing spikes in COVID-19 cases. There’s a lot of data though, and not all of it leads to clear conclusions, with news sources offering wildly conflicting views in their reporting on the “facts.”
If you’re 1 in 8 struggling with infertility, what’s different in a fertility practice?
What the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is advising:
The CDC website, updated daily, is continuing to offer these basic guidelines to avoid catching and spreading Covid-19:
- Wash your hands, frequently and for at least 20 seconds- sing happy birthday twice.
- Stay 6 feet away from others, whenever possible.
- Know how it’s spread- even those who don’t have symptoms may be spreading the virus
- If you’re going to a doctor’s appointment, even if it’s not required, wear a mask.
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces daily.
- Cover coughs and sneezes.
- Monitor your health
It’s not an easy time, navigating these complex situations that no one has previous experience with - that’s an understatement of epic proportions.
COVID-19 and Fertility Treatment- Questions That Need Answers
The CDC, Department of Health guidelines, and the World Health Organization (WHO) are updating frequently because of new research and data coming in. Guidelines differ from state to state, raising relevant questions about how fertility practices are keeping their patients and their team safe while still providing excellent clinical care. In many states, fertility treatment has been deemed an essential service and so have been open or opening to help patients build their families. Connecticut included doctors on their list of essential services, so fertility services remained available (many fertility programs did pause in-person appointments and procedures, at least for a short amount of time).
We asked several key RMA of Connecticut team members to walk us through their experience of how COVID-19 has affected fertility treatment and true to their nature, these reproductive health care professionals went above and beyond in their responses.
Q: Are there regulations that my fertility practice is following?
“We are following CT State and ASRM guidelines as well as CDC guidelines to incorporate protocols and procedures to keep our patients and employees safe.” Christina D., Nurse Manager
Q: What specific precautions are being taken to keep me safe?
“There are many precautions that we are taking to keep everyone safe. Every appointment is now scheduled with a specific time and spaced appropriately to decrease in office volume. Patients are being asked to wait in the car until we are ready to receive them. Screening is done by a triage nurse with temp checks on each patient before being allowed in the center. Employees are taking daily temps before coming into work and wearing appropriate personal protection equipment (PPE) in the office and operating room (OR). All patients are required to wear masks. Only patients are allowed in office for procedures, no partners or children allowed. Employees practicing social distancing in office and wearing masks at all times. Cleaning and disinfecting areas are done after each patient visit. We require testing patients for COVID-19 before embryo transfer (ET), VOR, and surgeries 2 days prior to the procedure.” Christina D., Nurse Manager
Q: Will my appointments take longer
“Appointments will take longer because of the precautions that need to be taken. However, no one will be having to wait in the waiting room or anywhere else during any other part of their treatment, except in a safe and protected way. Everything is by appointment and our team is working together and keeping on schedule to meet the expectations of each and every patient.” Christina D., Nurse Manager
“Your check-in will be slightly delayed since we are adhering to a new protocol which allows us to check each patient’s temperature and utilize two-way text to manage their arrival, in order to limit the number of patients in our office at one time. Our main goal continues to be supportive of our patients so that they can be safe and cared for in a timely matter.” Angela Rojas, Patient Services Manager
Q: Will I get the same level of care and attention with Telehealth?
“Telehealth conferences are working really well and I really like them- I can still connect with patients through zoom, I feel that I am still educating them, energizing them and infusing them with hope.” Joshua Hurwitz, MD
“While it is hard not to be able to reach out and provide a hug from time to time, I am appreciative to be able to see so many patients, whether via telehealth or in person.” Ilana Ressler, MD
Q: Where do I find updates I can trust?
“In the early days of the pandemic, things were changing rapidly -- from work schedules and office hours, to transitioning to telehealth and virtual support programs. I'm proud of the RMA of Connecticut team and how everyone has navigated this extraordinary period of change. I'm also proud of the learning center content and virtual programming we've been able to bring to our community during this time, ensuring that our patients feel support and kept in the loop. Lastly, we have a dedicated webpage that offers a complete guide to COVID-19 for fertility patients.” Matt Boley, Marketing Manager
Q: What’s different during a fertility treatment cycle now?
“COVID-19 has had many impacts on the workflow, and how we manage our patients. The complexity of helping a patient transition into a fertility treatment cycle from the first time they “zoom” with their doctor and leading to their treatment cycle is much more involved and requires a higher level of support. Luckily, we have a multi-disciplinary team to help the patients navigate these challenging times, including their Patient Navigator, their nurse, their Financial Advocate, the Integrated Fertility & Wellness team practitioners, our Fertility Counselors, and other support programs. Everything is designed for safety and efficacy, with the same clinical excellence that has always been offered.” Christina D. Nurse Manager
RMA of Connecticut Team Shares Their Thoughts and Feelings About Changes During COVID-19
“We know how sensitive fertility is to time, and how it’s important to avoid delay, whenever possible. Thankfully, we at RMA Connecticut have adjusted to the ‘new normal.’ I am very grateful to be able to come into the office every day and continue to provide care for our patients.” Ilana Ressler, MD
“When I come to work, I follow all of our COVID-19 policies and procedures which include using a mask, proper hand cleaning, and distancing between my patients and our staff members. Most difficult is wearing the N-95 mask in the operating room as breathing through it’s more difficult than a regular mask. I am getting used to it.” Spencer Richlin, MD
“While the pandemic is still ongoing, I feel fortunate that I've been able to bring more structure and routine back into my life over the last few weeks. I also want to give a shout out to all of the folks on the frontlines -- from healthcare professionals to food/beverage industry workers and everyone in between. Thank you for keeping us safe and sustained.” Matt Boley, Marketing Manager
“I feel pretty excited to come back to work every day and have a familiar routine. Working at home was very isolating for me. I really enjoy seeing people and it has been so nice seeing staff transition back into the office. Everyone is embracing technology by connecting on Teams and Zoom meetings. Overall, COVD-19 has changed our landscape on how we communicate and run the practice. I believe there will be more inspiration and technology to come.” Cori Cooper, Director of Operations
“We can totally tell when the patients are smiling at us just with their eyes. Most of the Medical Assistants miss hugging the patients, they like to give air hugs all the time or a simple rub on their back. We all felt very safe coming to work during this pandemic since day 1.” Letty, Medical Assistant Team Leader
“A lot has changed, but a lot has stayed the same. I feel just as connected to my patients as before- even with masks on and at the proper distance. The same is for our great staff- I feel just as close even though don’t see them in persona as much. I guess to sum it all up, I feel grateful and relieved that we are finally back to work by helping our patients in a safe manner.” Joshua Hurwitz, MD
“What feels so exciting in an upsetting world is that we have created a safe welcoming environment for our patients to come back to. We are being very careful. I have gotten so much feedback that our patients feel safe in our offices. For me personally, I'm able to continue to help our community family-build, which is why we are all here. As a practice, RMA Connecticut’s responsibility is to have a safe, welcoming environment during this very difficult time. It’s to help our patients continue their goal of building a family, freezing eggs, or sperm. Our 4 offices are humming along and being organized for maximum safety. We are following all of our policies and procedures and things are going really well. Pregnancy rates with embryo transfers at our office right now are higher than expected.” Spencer Richlin, MD
One Fertility Specialist Shares A Personal Story
“This era of COVID-19 has affected all of us in various ways. I was personally affected at the very beginning, as my family resides in New Rochelle, the area that became known as ‘The Containment Zone.’ It was very scary and felt surreal, as the virus had previously seemed so far away, and was then literally in our backyards. I was very grateful that no one in my family, including myself, became infected or affected by the virus.” Ilana Ressler, MD
Happy to Be in the Office
"I thought I would love working from my PJs and having unlimited coffee an arms reach away, but I quickly found out that I missed saying good morning to my coworkers and being able to wish patients good luck as I see them walking towards the OR for their retrievals. I feel very lucky to be able to come back and to get to celebrate positive pregnancy tests aloud." Angela Rojas, Patient Services Manager
We’re Ready to Help You Build Your Family
Despite COVID-19, the goal at a fertility practice is resolute- to help people become pregnant, have their babies, and become parents. While the appearance of the landscape does look different, those goals haven’t changed. The ongoing commitment is to safety, clinical excellence, and healthy conceptions.
With COVID-19 declining steadily in Connecticut, now is a good time to make an appointment and fulfill your dream of a baby.
About Lisa Rosenthal
Lisa has over thirty years of experience in the fertility field. After her personal infertility journey, she felt dissatisfied with the lack of comprehensive services available to support her. She was determined to help others undergoing fertility treatment. Lisa has been with RMACT for eleven years and serves as Patient Advocate and the Strategic Content Lead.
Lisa is the teacher and founder of Fertile Yoga, a program designed to support men and women on their quest for their families through gentle movement and meditation.
Lisa’s true passion is supporting patients getting into treatment, being able to stay in treatment and staying whole and complete throughout the process. Lisa is also a Certified Grief Recovery Specialist, which is helpful in her work with fertility patients.
Her experience also includes working with RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association and The American Fertility Association (now Path2Parenthood), where she was Educational Coordinator, Conference Director and Assistant Executive Director.