NRL News

“We believe wholeheartedly that you are essential” Heartbeat tells affiliate centers amid virus fallout

by | Mar 20, 2020

By  Lisa Bourne 

Serving women in unplanned pregnancy remains a crucial ministry as developments continue in the COVID-19 pandemic. 

This, along with the importance of health protocols, being creative in serving clients, and giving great care to pregnancy center staff and volunteers were discussed in the inaugural webinar in a series offered by Heartbeat International to assist affiliates in navigating effects of the coronavirus spread. 

Heartbeat affiliates were also assured with the webinar that Option Line, Heartbeat’s worldwide 24/7-365 bilingual pro-life contact center, remained fully staffed to meet their needs, no matter how they might change in light of the pandemic.

Coronavirus and Your Pregnancy Help Organization is the series of three interactive digital courses for the pregnancy help community offered to Heartbeat affiliates at no charge and scheduled for March 17-19. 

Some 800 individuals have registered for the webinars, resulting in a wait-list. Prospective attendees unable to take part in the live webinars will have access to the training later along with those who attended through Heartbeat’s affiliate’s services web-page.

The first of the three webinars was Center Services in These Uncertain Times, presented Tuesday. It was hosted by Heartbeat’s Vice President of Ministry Services Betty McDowell, Heartbeat Vice President of Mission Advancement Cindi Boston-Bilotta and Beth Diemert, Ministry Services Specialist and faculty for Heartbeat’ s Academy. 

“This is your chance to come alongside your people and to make sure they have what they need,” Boston-Bilotta said. 

First, you must make sure your needs are met, she said, take care of yourself, get as much as sleep as you can.

“Times like these are difficult, but they make us better,” said Boston-Bilotta.

“You are here for such a time as this” 

“Your relationship with God is most important,” she added. “Listen to Him, that will guide the steps you take.”

Diemert referenced the “overflow principle” in concurring with Boston-Bilotta.

“You can’t give something that you don’t have,” she said.

Diemert went on to invoke the Scripture passage from Esther often used to draw courage and hope among the faithful for the pregnancy help organizations.

“You are here for such a time as this,” Diemert said.

“Don’t lose your sense of humor amidst this,” McDowell told attendees. 

Take care about how humor is approached, she said, because this is serious stuff, but having an upbeat attitude is important and affects others positively. 

McDowell shared how she had spoken with a friend about responding to the pandemic, and when looking at the current challenge before those serving in the pregnancy help community, instead of having an attitude of, “I have to,” it’s important instead to think that, “I get to.” 

 “Prayer is your greatest weapon”

Diemert emphasized that strong, confident, authentic leadership is key.

“This is serious stuff – no one is immune to it,” she said, “so it’s important to show your team that you share their concerns.”

“But what you do with those concerns is critical,” Diemert said. “Prayer is your greatest weapon.”

The other key part of leadership is communication, she added, even to a greater degree than normal, so no staff or volunteers are left questioning things.

“Also showing them that you are placing them as a high priority,” said Diemert, “providing the same consideration to them as you are to your center and clients.”

“Your vision and mission haven’t changed”

Both Boston-Bilotta and Diemert shared how they navigated the aftermath of the September 11, 2001, terror attacks while in pregnancy help ministry.  

Boston-Bilotta said if you take care of your team you will set yourself up for a greater level of success. 

“One thing I noticed with my team is I can’t fix all the problems,” she said, “but I could listen.”

She echoed that communication with your team and board is crucial.

“Your vision and mission haven’t changed,” McDowell told webinar attendees. “You’re just equipping your team.”

She reminded webinar participants that links to resources for affiliates in addressing the pandemic would be forthcoming.

A collection of documents to assist pregnancy help organizations, along with the webinar recording, was made available to Heartbeat affiliates later Tuesday. Among these were material from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization, and OSHA, the protocols of which affiliate centers are already following. 

Diemert said that centers need practical advice, and that in addition to Heartbeat’s resources, some centers have been reaching out to Heartbeat with their ideas.

“We appreciate that people are sharing and trying to help each other,” said Diemert.

An example of a center statement was shared, and there was discussion of messaging, either in the case of a center remaining open or deciding to temporarily close. 

There was discussion as well of how to determine whether centers should remain open. This is something to be decided by each center given each respective scenario. 

McDowell mentioned the directives released by varying states saying that unless a business is essential then its door should be closed, and Diemert listed some nonessential examples, saying centers should feel comfortable about falling into the essential category. Some centers have begun communicating that they are an essential business, Diemert said.

For centers with a medical director Boston-Bilotta recommended discussing the situation with the medical director, before then deciding as a team. 

Some centers are re-evaluating how they serve, and it may be possible to add complementary services at this time. 

“If the abortion clinics are open and think of themselves as essential, then you are even more essential,” McDowell stressed.

Diemert offered some examples of how some centers are streamlining services.

“We believe wholeheartedly that you are essential,” McDowell added.

 “We know that this journey is long and arduous for women facing unplanned pregnancy,” Boston-Bilotta said, and crisis or anxiety will affect things throughout.

She recommended being creative, expanding electronic communications with clients, such as establishing a private Facebook page.

The webinar panel took questions from attendees. 

Among the information shared was that it is reasonable for a center to screen any visitor to the center for health concerns, such as taking their temperature, and that this also shows concern for staff and volunteers.

For abortion recovery and other healing groups that are currently meeting, since these groups are typically small, they should be able to continue with the basic social distancing guidelines observed, but could be done virtually if needed. If so, centers are advised to be aware and clear regarding the handling of confidentiality. This applies to other pregnancy help classes that are small as well, otherwise, it could be possible to conduct classes remotely.

McDowell advised attendees that what’s happening today could change

“It’s not only changing daily,” she said, “it’s changing hour by hour, so we have to be mindful of those things.”

Centers with medical staff who are asked to take time from work to serve in the medical community will have to make decisions on a case by case basis as well.

A fact sheet on pregnancy and coronavirus would be among the forthcoming resources, and McDowell recommended that centers include this on their website.  

It’s also reasonable to ask clients to confirm appointments.

Specifics for maternity homes would be addressed subsequently.

McDowell emphasized that Option Line is here for the centers. Calls are up, as the service has been answering calls for some centers that have closed temporarily. 

Centers need to be certain to inform Option Line staff if they plan to close.

Telemed consultation is also something worth exploring going forward, she said.

And now is also an even better time to take advantage of the virtual services available via Heartbeat Academy.

Boston-Bilotta encouraged centers to “operate with wisdom,” communicating in such a way that makes staff and clients know they are being kept as safe as possible.

Editor’s note. This appeared at Pregnancy Help News and is reposted with permission.