Midwifery student Emily Baxter’s living room looks a bit different these days. Along with the usual evidence of a busy life of a mom and her three kids, it has also been a collection point for loads of donated personal protective equipment (PPE) destined for midwifery clinics in communities across B.C. since March.
As a fourth-year student in the UBC Bachelor of Midwifery program, Baxter’s clinical placement was unexpectedly cut short in mid-March because of COVID-19. She found herself looking for a way to help her colleagues in the midwifery community before graduating and starting practice in May.
She quickly identified a pressing need: PPE – such as masks, surgical gowns and surgical caps – for midwives doing home visits and providing home births to healthy, low-risk clients during the pandemic.
“Choice of birthplace is so important in midwifery,” Baxter says. “I knew that midwives would continue to have access to PPE while they were working in hospitals during COVID-19. But I also saw that without sufficient PPE for their practices, midwives would be challenged to continue to provide home births and home visits.”
So, she decided to do something about it.
Reaching out to her contacts in the community, she connected with a grassroots network of volunteers eager to contribute their skills, time and materials by sewing reusable caps and gowns, as well as non-surgical face masks. Along with the home-sewn PPE, Baxter also found herself coordinating the collection and distribution of other PPE such as disposable surgical masks donated by members of the community eager to help. The Masks to Midwives initiative was born, and quickly gained momentum.
Working with Alison Campbell, interim lead and instructor in the midwifery program, Baxter set-up a Facebook group to help coordinate requests and distribution. In addition to many individual volunteers, donations were also collected from organizations such as the Taiwanese Canadian Women’s Association of Vancouver.
With the help of five of her fellow midwifery students, who are part of the UBC Midwifery COVID-19 Volunteer Relief task force, Baxter is collecting the items to be safely distributed.
“My house has been the assembly station for all of these things,” she says with a laugh. “It just kind of evolved that way.”
To date, Baxter and her fellow volunteers have distributed more than 200 reusable surgical cap and gown sets, 2,000 surgical masks and 150 home-sewn masks to more than 40 midwifery practices in communities around B.C., including in Vancouver, Victoria, Salt Spring Island, Kelowna, Cranbrook and others. Her goal is to supply 50 more practices with sufficient PPE before she begins working.
“When something like this is happening – when there is crisis – it feels good to be part of the team that’s helping, instead of watching from the sidelines,” she says. “I can’t wait to start practicing as a midwife and to be working with clients; until then, this is what I can do to contribute.”