Health Advocacy in the Age of COVID-19

The Importance of Health Advocacy – Tips from Doula Deyonna Phillips

They say that knowledge is power, and at L’AMOURZINE we hold that truth near and dear. The community we aim to cultivate is an empowered one. We aim to give every reader, whether they’re a breast cancer survivor or a woman trying to pamper her privates, all the knowledge and tools necessary to advocate for themselves and their bodies.

Certified doula, life coach, and health advocacy champion Deyonna Phillips has the same goal. After witnessing a homeless woman give birth in the streets of Philadelphia her junior year of college, Deyonna was shaken. It wasn’t until five years later when her own cousin died during childbirth that she felt moved to fight against the healthcare system’s disproportionate disenfranchisement of women and women of color in particular

Now, as a doula of three years certified in reproductive health counseling and prenatal & post-natal care and delivery, Deyonna finds a number of ways to educate and uplift women. Whether it’s through her day job case-managing for HIV-positive Black mothers or conducting family planning as a doula, teaching health advocacy with a multidimensional approach plays a fundamental role in Deyonna’s work. “That's what my work is all about. It’s bridging the gap between the healthcare [provider] and the client.” Now, her work accounts for the new challenges and barriers COVID-19 has inserted in the health advocacy process.

We’ve mentioned the importance of health advocacy before, but given its timely importance in the midst of a pandemic, we wanted to hear from a pro. Here are Deyonna’s top tips for advocating for yourself and your health.

Shop Around 

“I encourage women and expecting families to not go with the first doctor, midwife, or doula they find,” Deyonna says. Although this is a tip Deyonna employs in her pregnancy work, she’s realized it also applies and carries added significance for general healthcare. It’s all a matter of doing your research until you find a healthcare practitioner you feel comfortable with and supported by, especially during a pandemic. “Look around for healthcare practitioners, because choosing the wrong one can have physical and psychological effects on you.”

Get Everything in Writing

In terms of gaining information during an appointment, walking away from a doctor’s office empty-handed is an easily avoidable mishap. “I notice that a lot of people go to the doctor looking for specific information, but they come back and they say ‘Yeah [the doctor] didn’t say’ or, ‘They’re not sure about that’, or ‘They don’t think they do that’,” Deyonna says. “There’s always policies in place, there’s always an answer. Always make sure that no question goes unanswered. Then, go the extra mile - ‘Well can I speak to someone who does know? And can I get that in writing?’” 

Use Technology

If there’s one good thing that’s come of the pandemic, it’s the augmented capacities of technology. “Technology is so important as far as health advocacy,” Deyonna says. She describes two main components to the power of technology. First and foremost, technology simply makes information accessible. If an elderly and/or disabled person needs to know whether they can bring support to doctor’s appointments, that information is readily available with a quick search and some internet savvy. 

Secondly, technology makes it so much easier to record and remember the information discussed during appointments. In other words, tip #1 is easy to follow if you know how to maximize your tech devices. “You can FaceTime your doctor, you can record [your appointments], especially in one-party consent states like New Jersey...even just the ability to whip your phone out to take notes! We can gain clarity on a lot of things because of technology," Deyonna says.

Self-Care Every Chance You Get

“COVID affects us mentally, given we are so disconnected from normalcy,” Deyonna says – a reality we’re all very familiar with by this point. However, beyond the general importance of self-care during a time of global isolation, self-care is also a crucial foundation to having the mental and physical capacity to advocate for your wellbeing. In fact, Deyonna experienced it firsthand: “It was very huge for me the moment that I realized my anxiety was an issue that needed to be corrected; I needed help,” Deyonna explains. “Especially as a Black woman - we advocate for everyone else, but the moment I needed to advocate for myself, I didn’t know how to say to a doctor ‘I have anxiety and I need help.’” 

In order to articulate, let alone identify, the ways in which you’re struggling and need support, you first need to invest in your own wellness on a day-to-day basis. Deyonna teaches her clients how to articulate their experiences and symptoms to their doctors, but the first step is always instructing them on the importance of self-care in health advocacy.  “Self-care is valuing yourself; you cannot advocate from yourself if you don’t know your value,” she says.

Prepare Yourself Financially 

This is another skill that Deyonna previously taught in the context of her doula work and has been able to translate to fit health advocacy during COVID-times. In doing her work conducting health advocacy for black mothers, Deyonna realized the financial sustainability skills she encouraged Black mothers could also benefit women taking care of themselves and their families during the pandemic. “There’s not a lot of knowledge about the financial services available for us besides the stimulus; [there is] state funding, legal advocates, and other unlimited resources,” Deyonna says. “But even if we can’t get access to those things, it’s important to know how to advocate for ourselves financially: budgeting differently due to the pandemic, building your savings for doctors and insurance...Financial literacy is a tool for health advocacy.” 

Have a “Go-Plan”

Whether it’s for a pending birth or a potential case of COVID-19, the best way to advocate for yourself is to be prepared. Having a pregnancy plan, COVID plan, or any other emergency plan places you in the best position to advocate for yourself once you get to the doctor’s office. Know your nearest hospital routes. Have an emergency contact list at the ready. Keep your list of conditions and medications handy (and maybe even make it accessible to someone you trust). Deyonna’s tip? Keep the ones you love in the loop. “We all have our bubble of people; now is the time to communicate with that bubble about the ‘what-ifs’,” Deyonna says. “It doesn't mean you’re living in fear, it just means you’re prepared.” 

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