MERCED — Up to 100 low-income, first-time mothers in Merced County could be eligible to receive in-home visits from a registered nurse under a new wellness program.
The Merced County Department of Public Health received federal funding to bring this program to the area, said Jane MacLean, nursing director at the county's public health department.
As part of the Nurse Family Partnership program, the nurses will visit the home of each woman weekly or biweekly until their child turns 2 years old, she said.
Laura Roberts, supervising public health nurse, said there's a curriculum that the nurses will follow during their home visits. That includes education about a healthy pregnancy and delivery, information about postpartum depression and parenting skills.
The program accepts referrals from local health care providers as well as self-referrals, MacLean said.
The program has capacity for 100 women, Roberts said. Nineteen have enrolled.
The program is voluntary and free for the women who qualify, MacLean said.
To qualify, women need to enroll before the 28th week of pregnancy, they need to be at 133 percent to 300 percent of the federal poverty level (WIC eligible) and the pregnancy must be their first, she said.
Years of research have proven that such programs have helped improve the lives of mothers and their children, MacLean said.
For example, she said, such programs have been shown to reduce child abuse and neglect by 48 percent, according to an overview of the program, and they have reduced emergency room visits for accidents and poisonings by 56 percent.
During the home visits in Merced County, the nurses will be collecting information on how the services are helping new mothers and infants, Roberts said.
The patient's confidentiality is always protected, MacLean said, because the data collected is aggregated and it's not specific to a client.
"We are very excited to bring an evidence model to Merced County with these kind of outcomes," Roberts said. "It makes a pretty substantial difference in the lives of the families that we work with."
MacLean said the county's public health department received $890,352 during the 2011-12 fiscal year to support the Nurse Family Partnership program.
The federal Affordable Care Act dollars were funneled to some counties in California by the state's department of public health. Getting the funding was a competitive process, and Merced County had to demonstrate the need for such service, MacLean said.
Public health officials began implementing the program at the beginning of last year and started enrolling women October, Roberts said.
The program is designed to have four full-time nurses and one nursing supervisor, she said.
"There's a need for this program actually everywhere," MacLean said, adding that the program's model has been used for almost 30 years and it has proven to be successful in "helping families get off to good, healthy starts."
MacLean said an advisory group consisting of four community leaders will find ways to fine-tune the program to meet the needs of women in Merced County.
Reporter Yesenia Amaro can be reached at (209) 385-2482 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more on the Merced County Nurse Family Partnership, call (209) 381-1153.