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County considers participating in program to help first-time moms

Public health nurse Sue Anderson checks the development of 2-year-old Jaenna Wolff by using a book of animal photos and asking what sounds each one makes during a visit to her home April 21, 2006, in Fargo, N.D., as her mother Jennifer North watches. The visit is part of the Nurse-Family Partnership program. Dave Wallis /Forum Communications Co.

WILLMAR -- With the goal of helping vulnerable first-time mothers raise healthy children and improve their own lives, the Kandiyohi County Commissioners took a first step this week to join the Nurse-Family Partnership.

The community health program -- which operates in communities nationwide -- pairs a registered nurse with a woman who is pregnant with her first child and living in poverty.

The intervention-style relationship, which is fostered through home visits, continues until the child turns 2.

Citing statistics from Minnesota participants, the program boasts that 90 percent of babies were born full-term and that 94 percent got the recommended immunizations by 24 months.

In a presentation to the commissioners, Chelsea Pearsall, a regional program developer with the Nurse-Family Partnership, said 77 percent of all Minnesota mothers that participated in the program initiated breastfeeding and 51 percent of mothers who entered the program without a diploma or GED have since earned it and another 26 percent are working toward it.

Kandiyohi County will join 25 other Minnesota counties, including many in southwest and west central Minnesota, in sponsoring the program that is financed with public and private funding sources.

Renville County Public Health has offered the Supporting Hands Nurse-Family Partnership since 2007. Kandiyohi and Renville counties recently merged their public health boards.

Having the program offered in both counties will make it easier to continue to provide services to families if they move, said Jill Bruns, Renville County Public Health Director.

"We transform the lives of clients," said Pearsall, adding that the physical health of the woman and economic health of her family is improved if a mother participates.

She said 30 years of evidence-based research shows the program can prevent negative outcomes that often haunt women who don't have money or an education and who are raising children.

She said the program has been shown to reduce child abuse and neglect, reduce emergency room visits for accidents and poisonings, reduce behavioral and intellectual problems for kids by 6 years of age and reduce arrests when a child turns 15. The program has also been shown to reduce criminal convictions of mothers.

Other positive outcomes shown in the research are better health and better reading skills by the children when they enter school.

Eligible mothers are enrolled no later than their 28th week of pregnancy. The nurse will make 14 prenatal visits to the home, 20 visits during the infancy years and 22 visits during the toddler years.

Nurses are specially trained for the "extremely rigorous program," Pearsall said.

Since it began in Renville County, 144 babies have been born to mothers enrolled in the program, said Bruns.

"It's been a great, great program," she said.

Kandiyohi County Public Health Director Ann Stehn said there are about 200 first-time moms who give birth every year in the county, including 60 who are teens.

She said the county has considered offering its own program, but she said there would be considerable infrastructure to establish and it would be easier to buy into an existing format. She said many neighboring counties are members of the group, which often meets in Willmar. That would make it easy for the county to join and for mothers to participate even if they move.

The board agreed to sign a letter of support that will begin discussions to join the program.

"This is the first step but it's an important step," said Stehn.

In other action this week, the Kandiyohi County Commissioners approved a new policy that reflects changes in a state law regarding services for people with disabilities when they move from one county to another.

In the past, the home county would provide the new host county with information about the client's needs and the host county would determine if there was a group home available that was a good fit to provide quality care.

It's a system that's worked well for years, said Tamara Goldenstein, a family service supervisor.

Because of the change in statute, specific information about the client can no longer be required and a county can no longer deny access to services.

Now, counties will just be notified that an individual will be arriving and service providers will have to conduct the evaluations the client and accommodate the person's needs.

The change in the law was made out of concern by some that the right to move from one county to another was restricted for individuals with disabilities, said Goldenstein.

That change could increase the financial risks for some host counties, like Kandiyohi County which has a large number of group homes for individuals with disabilities.

"We can't change the statute so we have to work with it," said Commissioner Harlan Madsen.

The commissioners also heard an update on a proposed joint powers agreement for participating in the 12-county Southern Prairie Health Purchasing Alliance, which would provide management and delivery of government health care programs, including Medical Assistance.

The commissioners are expected to take action July 3 to formally join the alliance.

"It is a big step forward," said Madsen.

"The train is moving forward," said Chairman Richard Larson

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for 35 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

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