Banking & Finance, Government, and Health Care

Kent County expanding plan for low-income mothers

While officials have seen ‘impressive results,’ they admit lack of care for minorities is disconcerting.

June 7, 2019
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(Watch this story on WZZM TV 13 on Monday morning) The Kent County Health Department is expanding a program that supports first-time, low-income mothers.

Denver-based Nurse-Family Partnership’s primary focus is to help minority women improve skills in the areas of maternal and child physical health, education and employment, family and friend support, and preventing child abuse and neglect.

Since the county began providing NFP services nearly a decade ago, the home visitation program has shown “impressive results” in addressing infant mortality, said Teresa Branson, the county’s deputy administrative health officer, in a letter to the county’s board of commissioners.

In Kent County specifically, nurses have ensured that mothers receive prenatal care and have a safe sleep environment and that babies are up to date on vaccinations and receive regular medical care, according to Joann Hoganson, the county’s community nursing director.

Hoganson said the focus on employment is a unique aspect compared to other home visiting programs.

“We know that babies born and raised in poverty have greater health risks, and so Nurse-Family Partnership focuses in on helping those first-time moms to get back to school and finish their degree and get a job,” Hoganson said.

However, the program does not reach all the mothers who need assistance, she said.

“We are proud of the quality of the program, yet we know that we are reaching far too few mothers,” Branson said. “To increase our impact, we must enlarge the scope of the program.”

Five years ago, three times as many black babies died as compared to white babies, Hoganson said.

Now, she said black babies die about twice as much as white babies in Kent County and about three times as much in Grand Rapids, and overall numbers have decreased, but not as much as they could.

“Kent County continues to have unacceptable rates of preventable infant death, and even more concerning, a very significant disparity in the rate of infant deaths between white and African American babies,” Branson said.

Hoganson said NFP originally was funded by the state, thanks to efforts by Michigan Sen. Peter MacGregor, specifically to address infant mortality.

Hoganson said the goal is to have zero preventable deaths. While the county is moving in the right direction, she said a “huge complicator” is opioids, not necessarily because the drugs cause birth defects, but because the addicted mothers become bad caretakers.

With six public health nurses working through the program, the county serves about 150-180 mothers. With the planned expansion, which includes hiring two additional nurses, the program will be able to serve 200-230 mothers.

“Right now, the families we’re touching are doing great, but we’re not touching enough families,” Hoganson said. “The addition of two more nurses will help us to reach more families.”

The county was awarded $225,000 through the state’s supplemental budget for the two additional nurses and to convert a part-time clerk typist to full time.

The annual cost of salary and benefits for the two nurses is $166,877, and the clerk will earn another $28,564. The remaining $29,559 will be used for training, supplies, mileage and indirect costs.

The Kent County Board of Commissioners will vote June 13 to accept the funding. The human resources and finance committees already have approved the request.

If the grant funding is eliminated or decreased, the position will be eliminated, unless continuation funding is approved by the county.

Hoganson said the new state funding is set for at least the next five years.

The funding for the other six nurses comes from public health care reimbursements and the county’s general fund, Hoganson said.

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