Health district program gives help to first-time, low-income moms

Becoming a new mother can be tough. Between the weight gain, sleepless nights and budgeting expenses, mothers quickly find out that raising a child is anything but child’s play, and low-income mothers can be bombarded by additional financial fears.

To help first-time mothers, the Southern Nevada Health District introduced the Nurse-Family Partnership program.

“This is a very client-centered program where nurses focus on the client’s strengths to see what their goals are,” said Margarita DeSantos, a community health nurse manager at the district. “Nurses are there to support and mentor mothers. It becomes a therapeutic relationship.”

The Nurse-Family Partnership is a free, evidence-based community health program that partners first-time moms from low-income backgrounds with specially trained public health nurses. It is open to first-time mothers who are less than 28 weeks pregnant and live in targeted at-risk areas of the Las Vegas Valley.

The program was introduced in Las Vegas in 2008 with three main goals: to improve pregnancy outcomes, improve family economic self-sufficiency and improve the child’s health, growth and development.

It is the only program of its kind offered in Nevada and has 126 families enrolled.

The nurses are there to answer questions about the mother and child’s health and give tips on child development. They inspire the mother to stay healthy and give up bad habits, such as smoking and drinking.

“It’s not about being told right from wrong but about trying to figure out what is best for mother and child,” said Maria Teresa Johnson, senior community health nurse at the district.

Maira Ortiz,17, and her partner, Marco Najera, 18, found out about the program when Ortiz was three months pregnant at 15.

“I was really emotional, and I wasn’t prepared, but my nurse made me feel comfortable and told me that it wasn’t impossible to be a young mom,” said Ortiz, who now has a 2-year-old daughter. “She never judged me, and she always answered all of my questions.”

Najera said he was always included in the partnership and found it very helpful especially after their daughter, Genesis, was born.

“Whenever we had trouble dealing with the baby because we didn’t know what to do or why she’s crying, our nurse was there to help us,” Najera said. “She taught us about crying cues, and she would be there for Maira when I couldn’t be there.”

Because Spanish is the primary language for nearly 37 percent of its clients, the program has three bilingual nurses.

Topics covered include prenatal nutrition, breastfeeding, postpartum depression, and newborn and toddler care until the child turns 2.

Home visits can last between an hour and 90 minutes, and appointments are scheduled around the client.

“This is an opportunity for us to change lives — not just the life of the mother, but the life of the child,” Johnson said.

The program has undergone 30 years of randomized trials with sample sizes that have included 400 to 1,139 mothers. Among its many findings, it has been seen to improve pregnancy outcomes and the well-being and safety of children and increase economic self-sufficiency.

The program costs approximately $4,500 per family per year to fund, according to its national office. However, a 2005 RAND Corp. analysis found a net benefit to society of $34,148 per higher-risk family served, equating to a $5.70 return for every dollar invested in the program.

Many of the young mothers in the program have experienced poverty or abuse and have dropped out of school, but due to the program, DeSantos said some have gone on to receive their degrees or became teachers.

In the Las Vegas Valley, the median age of mothers enrolled in the program is 19, and 48 percent have a high school diploma or GED. The median household income of participants is $9,000, according to the health district.

“We’ve heard from moms that told us they went back to school, found better relationships and became much happier in life,” Johnson said. “We just plant the seeds and hope that they’ll grow and blossom.”

Call 702-759-0779 or visit southernnevadahealthdistrict.org.

— To reach North View reporter Sandy Lopez, email slopez@viewnews.com or call 702-383-4686. Find her on Twitter: @JournalismSandy.

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