Dr. Ashanda St. Jean, chief of obstetrics and gynecology at HealthAlliance Hospital in Kingston, New York, stands outside the new emergency department at Mary’s Avenue Hospital on March 28, 2023. (Tania Barricklo/Daily Freeman)
KINGSTON, NY – Dr. Ashanda St. Jean is working her dream job.
“I’m allowed to be a part of the best day of someone’s life,” said St. Jean, a Red Hook resident and mother of one stepdaughter. “Who can say that? This is amazing.”
About three years ago, St. Jean took over as chairman of obstetrics and gynecology at HealthAlliance Hospital in Kingston. The hospital is operated by HealthAlliance of the Hudson Valley, whose parent company is Westchester Medical Center Health Network.
St. Jean, who grew up in Queens, has since made HealthAlliance’s birth experience — something she calls “fascinating” — accessible to everyone in the community, including underserved and minority groups. In part, it’s an effort to prevent maternal and child deaths among these populations, which is an alarming national trend, she said.
“As a board-certified obstetrician/gynecologist, I have dedicated my career to focusing on providing quality, evidence-based care to the underrepresented to garner the best health outcomes despite the disparities that exist in maternal health.” St. Jean said. “My life’s work has been dedicated to excellence in health care delivery through holistic patient-centered care, including mental health, wellness, and addressing the social determinants of health. I engage with women’s health issues—most importantly, focusing on racial disparities, health equity, and inclusion.
For this purpose St. Jean was instrumental in creating a HealthAlliance hospital-based maternity health care system that had not previously existed in Ulster County. In a recent interview, St. Jean emphasized that the women’s services now available at HealthAlliance Hospital mean patients don’t have to travel outside the community to receive them.
“I think it’s important to understand the concept of a rural population and … the existence of a medical desert,” Saint-Jean said.
Early in her career, “I was in the middle of a medical desert in terms of comprehensive services for women,” she said. She had to work to correct this situation.
That’s no surprise given St. Jean’s extensive experience. Her specialties include women’s care, comprehensive obstetric care, preconceptional counseling, family planning, cancer prevention and screening, and pediatric gynecology, among others.
St. Jean has a medical degree from New York Medical College at Valhalla; is a fellow of the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology; and is a member of the American Medical Association and Physicians for Human Rights.
“I now serve Ulster County creating and leading a transformation of women’s health care, with a focus on the social determinants of health that impact rural and underserved communities,” she said. “I have focused my goals on creating comprehensive women’s health services that balance health equity and community access and developing community partnerships that will have a lasting impact on the Hudson Valley.”
So far St. Jean is responsible for creating the following obstetric initiatives to address maternal and child mortality:
• Maternal Fetal Medicine Specialist in Kingston providing Level II Ultrasound and Obstetrics Consultation.
• Prenatal consultation with obstetric anesthesia.
• Virtual lessons on childbirth and breastfeeding.
• 72-hour follow-up care for any OB/GYN in surrounding EDs within a 25-mile radius
• Referral to doulas who are trained, experienced professionals who provide continuous emotional, physical and informational support to mothers before, during and after birth.
• Lactation support and recommendations.
• Training and teaching obstetric team to promote vaginal delivery.
HealthAlliance said comprehensive gynecology initiatives include Urogyn care, minimally invasive gynecology surgery and emergency department follow-up for all OB/GYN patients within 72 hours.
St. Jean noted that there have been no deaths of babies or mothers at the hospital since the measures were put in place. She said the services were doing exactly what they were supposed to be doing.
“Developing strategies to address this health care crisis will change the course of birth outcomes and recognize barriers to equity and access to health care,” said St. Jean. “It is through these efforts that we can make a positive difference in someone’s birth through healing, supportive measures and quality of health care.”
On December 14, 2022, St. Jean gave birth to the first baby born at the newly opened HealthAlliance Hospital.
Photos: Ashanda St. Jean, MD, Chair of Obstetrics and Gynecology at HealthAlliance