A Healthy Start

Issue 27 | May 2017

Baylor Scott & White Medical Center - Hillcrest, in collaboration with Waco Foundation, established a Nurse-Family Partnership site in 2016 to help address Waco’s pressing poverty issue, which in 2013 reached an alarming rate of more than 30 percent, with a high teen pregnancy rate as well. The Nurse-Family Partnership program at Hillcrest is a local chapter of a nationwide organization based in Denver that addresses poverty and its impact on the health status of vulnerable populations. The program, which is free to participants, sends nurses to visit the homes of low-income, first-time mothers with the aim of ensuring the baby’s healthy birth and building the mother’s confidence. So far in Waco, 65 babies have been born into the program from mothers of diverse backgrounds ranging in age from 14 to 37. “Poverty affects not just one or two generations, but potentially three generations,” said Shelli Ellis, RN, Hillcrest nurse supervisor for the program. “What we teach these moms impacts these kids for the rest of their lives.”

Waco Foundation, a community foundation that promotes solutions to community challenges, was impressed with the work and results achieved by the national Nurse-Family Partnership, and after extensive research believed the program would be beneficial to the Waco community. Foundation executives approached Baylor Scott & White leadership with the idea to help reverse the trends in poverty and teen pregnancy and to build a stronger, more prosperous community. “Studies show that the first three years of a child’s life are the most important in terms of cognitive, emotional, and social development,” says Waco Foundation Executive Director Ashley Allison. “This program is designed to work at that crucial time.”

Ms. Allison praised Baylor Scott & White Medical Center – Hillcrest for agreeing to take on the task. “Everyone there has worked very, very hard,” she says. “It’s not easy to develop a new program within a large institution.” With initial funding from Waco Foundation, a grant from the Texas Health and Human Services’ Department of Family and Protective Services, donated office space from the hospital, and a joint desire to help struggling first-time mothers, the program went to work.

NFP Goals“The NFP has three immediate goals: to improve pregnancy outcomes, to improve the health of the child, and to improve the financial security of the family,” says Daryl Meyer, coordinator for the program at the hospital. “Achieving these goals helps to strengthen the family unit, can help children perform better in school, and can decrease the likelihood that they’ll continue the cycle of poverty.” She says that clients in the program are eager to learn from the nurses. “They want to be the best mom they can be,” says Ms. Meyer.

“We’re there as life coaches,” Mrs. Ellis says. “It’s not about what Nurse-Family Partnership wants for their family, or the goals our team at Hillcrest has set, but rather what the women want for themselves.”

Teamwork, and a successful program

The program has six full-time nurses who each work with up to 25 pregnant women. Some women are married, some are single, some are homeless. Ms. Meyer says. “They’re all unique individuals. The one thing they have in common is they’re first-time moms.”

Melonnie Pollard, director of Women’s and Children’s Services for Baylor Scott & White - Hillcrest, praises the team, which has achieved a client retention rate higher than national levels. “The team that we have assembled could not be more professional, sympathetic, and caring,” she says. Mrs. Ellis adds, “I can’t rave enough about my nurses. If there’s something new to learn, they’re learning it.”

A Healthy Start

Mrs. Ellis says the relationship that forms between a nurse and a mom is a special one. Nurses meet with their clients weekly at first, then biweekly or even monthly until the baby is born. “We hold our clients accountable; they’re expected to keep their appointments with our nurses and are given homework after each meeting,” Mrs. Ellis says. The nurse is not present when the child is born, but is available to the mother once she returns home, supporting her in initiating breastfeeding and answering any questions. Meetings go back to once a week until the nurse feels the mother is ready for less frequent visits.

So far the program has welcomed 32 boys and 33 girls into the world, with three sets of twins. Nurses continue to work with their clients until the child’s second birthday, so none of the children in the Waco program have “graduated” yet. But the supporters and staff sustaining the program already consider it a success. The feedback from clients has been heartening, Ms. Meyer says. “They really do value what these nurses are bringing to them.”

Ms. Pollard praised the leadership at Baylor Scott & White Medical Center - Hillcrest for backing the program. “They have been extremely helpful and supportive of our efforts to do anything we can to improve the lives of women and children in Waco,” she says. Ms. Meyer agrees: “Baylor Scott & White really feels this program has an impact on the future health of our community.”

Securing our efforts

The Nurse-Family Partnership (NFP) program at Baylor Scott & White Medical Center - Hillcrest is funded by a five-year renewable grant from the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services. But there is no   guarantee the grant will be renewed.

“Public funding can vary from year to year,” says Mrs. Allison. To build a financial reserve in case public money doesn’t come through in the future, the organizers who established the Nurse-Family Partnership at Hillcrest also established a philanthropic fund to continue the program. “Ongoing philanthropy is important to sustain the program, as well as grow NFP in the future,” says Rhonda Luker, director of philanthropy in Waco for the Baylor Scott & White - Central Texas Foundation.

So far, the sustainability fund has received donations from area foundations and individuals who are passionate about the vision of the Nurse-Family Partnership, Mrs. Luker says. Several private gatherings are scheduled throughout the spring to raise money for the program.

The NFP also relies on philanthropy for “extra” enhancements not covered by the state grant, such as rocking chairs for every new mother, children’s books, field trips for children in the program, and educational events.“A gift to the Nurse-Family Partnership impacts not just one life, but two lives—the mother and the baby,” Mrs. Luker says. Ms. Meyer says, “It helps two generations live healthier and have a more secure future.”

To make a donation to the Nurse-Family Partnership program at Baylor Scott & White Medical Center - Hillcrest, contact Rhonda Luker at 254-202-9553.

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