A bill that would ensure hospitals let at least one individual accompany a woman into the delivery room during childbirth is on a fast track for approval in the Legislature within 10 days.

The bill, A3942/S2394, isn’t directly related to the coronavirus pandemic but has gotten a push because of the health crisis and the limitations that have been put on hospital visitors.

Five weeks ago, the state Health Department issued guidance to hospitals that says one support person – a spouse, partner, sibling, doula or other person selected by the expectant mother – is considered to be essential to patient care during labor, delivery and the immediate postpartum period.

A bill approved Monday by the Assembly Appropriations Committee and due for a hearing by a Senate committee Thursday requires that guidance to be adopted through official rules and regulations. There is a voting session set for May 14, and it seems likely the bill could be posted for a vote then.

Erin Jones, regional director of advocacy and government affairs for the March of Dimes, said there’s no argument against the fact that continuous support during labor leads to better birth outcomes.

“We clearly were supportive before the pandemic, and obviously during the pandemic we’re even more worried about women giving birth during a time that’s very, very scary for them,” Jones said.

“It’s hard to believe we have to have a bill like this, but we’re finding that it is important that pregnant women during labor are remembered during this pandemic because this is the beginning of a new life, and we want it to be as unstressful as humanly possible during this time.”

Neil Eicher, vice president for government relations and policy for the New Jersey Hospital Association, said hospitals fully support of the bill

“We’ve been on top of this since the breakout began. Each hospital has certain protocols and procedures in place that include screening of the mother and the support person, especially for fevers, and they do that every 6 to 12 hours during the process,” he said. “Making sure that there’s adequate PPE for the mother, the support person and staff and of course also social distancing where necessary.”

A support person has extremely limited access to other areas of a hospital and cannot leave and re-enter the labor and delivery unit. If there is a shortage of personal protective equipment, the support person can be kept out.

Eicher said expectant mothers should line up a backup support person, just in case the first is symptomatic or has a fever.

“But our goal is the safety of the mother, the newborn and the staff that’s in there, as well as making sure that everyone feels comfortable and gets to that experience together,” Eicher said.

The Assembly Appropriations Committee met remotely by phone for the first time. Its next meeting might take place using Zoom videoconferencing.

The bill passed unanimously, though Assemblyman Herb Conaway, D-Burlington, who is a doctor, expressed some hesitation.

“There very well may be situations where it is too dangerous to have additional people who are not absolutely necessary to the process in the hospital,” Conaway. Said. “I’m just concerned, as I always am about – almost like this would straitjacket the medical community making decisions of the moment.”

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