Nurse-Family Partnership program supports first-time mothers

PeaceHealth Southwest, Clark County Public Health partner; PeaceHealth makes hefty donation

By Marissa Harshman, Columbian Health Reporter

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When Zoe Davisson learned she was pregnant, she knew she would need help.

She had her mom, but the 17-year-old wanted support from someone who had parented children but wasn’t parenting her.

“I don’t know how to have a kid,” Davisson said. “I don’t know how to be a parent.”

Davisson found that support in the Nurse-Family Partnership, which pairs young, pregnant women with public health nurses for one-on-one home visits throughout pregnancy and until the child’s second birthday. Davisson, then 20 weeks pregnant, was connected with Clark County Public Health nurse Joan Riemer.

For the last six months, the pair have met regularly. Riemer helped Davisson through the second half of her pregnancy and, as of seven weeks ago, helped her transition into her new role as mom to baby Rae.

For Davisson, the program has been invaluable.

“It’s helped me so much,” said Davisson, who celebrated her 18th birthday on Thursday. “It’s given me the confidence to be a mom.”

Clark County Public Health has four public health nurses in the program (one full-time nurse and three 0.8 full-time equivalent nurses) with the capacity to help about 85 women. The community need, however, is much higher. An estimated 250 local families are eligible and could benefit from the program, said Pat Shaw, Nurse-Family Partnership program manager.

In the past, the county has struggled to fund the non-mandated program, limiting how many families can be served. But county health officials hope a new partnership with PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center — and hefty financial donation — will change that.

This week, Clark County Public Health announced a three-year, $900,000 partnership with PeaceHealth Southwest. Next year, the county will use $300,000 from PeaceHealth to sustain the program at its current level. The following two years, county health officials hope to be able to use the money to expand, Shaw said.

“It would be great to serve more women,” Shaw said.

The partnership allows PeaceHealth Southwest to address one if its goals, community health, by investing in proven prevention efforts that are working well in the community, said Sean Gregory, chief executive for PeaceHealth’s Columbia Network, which includes PeaceHealth Southwest.

“We think this (program) really gets to the sweet spot of helping the moms, the kids and the families,” Gregory said.

Mother, child aid

The Nurse-Family Partnership is an evidence-based, community health program for low-income, high-risk, first-time moms. The national program was started more than 40 years ago and is now in 42 states. Clark County started its Nurse-Family Partnership program in 2007.

The proven benefits of the program are abundant: improvement in prenatal health and fewer unintended subsequent pregnancies; reduction in welfare use, child injuries and criminal activity (mother and child); and increase in maternal employment, child’s school readiness and father’s involvement. Research has also shown the program has a return on investment of $5 for every $1 spent.

In addition to the tangible outcomes, the program provides young women and their families with a trusting adult, said Dr. Alan Melnick, Clark County Public Health director.

“They help turn these families’ lives around,” he said.

For Davisson, Riemer was not only a trusting adult but also a mentor, supporter and educator. Throughout her pregnancy, Davisson turned to Riemer for advice on her changing body, building and maintaining relationships, expectations when the baby arrives and how to succeed as a parent. And now that baby Rae is here, Riemer educates Davisson about Rae’s weight gain and developmental milestones and helps Davisson navigate her own challenges as a new mom.

“I am forever impressed by her,” Riemer said of Davisson. “She’ll be a great role model for Rae.”

Davisson is on track to graduate from Hudson’s Bay High School this year. After that, she hopes to become a lactation consultant so she can support and encourage other women.

“I love breast-feeding,” she said. “I feel so empowered. And I want to be able to help other women, and especially women my age.”

“Being a young mom is hard, but it’s manageable,” she added. “Just because I’m young doesn’t mean I’m a bad mom.”