Preventable deaths among low-income mothers and their first-born children living in disadvantaged neighborhoods can be significantly reduced by the implementation of Nurse-Family Partnership, a nurse home visiting program, according to a study.
The national program, which currently serves 21 counties in California, including Merced, pairs qualifying women with a registered nurse for home visitations throughout the mother’s pregnancy and until the child’s second birthday.
According to officials with Nurse-Family Partnership, the program works to help families have healthier pregnancies, improve child development and help parents become self-sufficient. A 20-year study found lower mortality rates among women and their children who were visited by a nurse compared with those who were not.
The study took a look at low-income families in Memphis, Tenn., from 1990 to 2011. Data showed the control group of children with no visits by a nurse had a mortality rate of 1.6 percent for preventable causes; zero preventable deaths were recorded among the group of children visited by a nurse. Preventable causes included sudden infant death syndrome, unintentional injuries and homicides.
In addition, mothers who didn’t receive regular visits from registered nurses were three times more likely to die from all causes, according to the report.
“Death among mothers and children in these age ranges in the U.S. general population is rare but of enormous consequence,” said David Olds, professor of Pediatrics at the University of Colorado and lead investigator in the study. “The high rates of death among mothers and children not receiving nurse-home visits reflect the toxic conditions faced by too many low-income parents and children in our society.”
In Merced County, the program is still relatively new. The first local NFP group started in October 2012 and will graduate in January 2015. Supervising Public Health Nurse, Regina Vittore said the program helps between 75 and 100 families. Most of the families that benefit from the program are from the cities of Merced and Los Banos. There are also families in the Livingston, Atwater and Winton areas who use NFP services.
To qualify for NFP, women must be first-time mothers, meet low-income criteria and be in their first or second trimester of pregnancy.
Because the program is still new in Merced County, there is no data to show its impact, but the county shows need and potential to benefit from it, Vittore said.
“What we do know is that we have a high need,” she said. “We get a lot of Medi-Cal births in this county, and we also have a high rate of teen pregnancy, so the need is there.”
Teen pregnancy, as an indication of first pregnancy, is one of the reasons NFP was implemented in Merced, Vittore said. From 2009 to 2011, Merced County’s teen birth rate per 1,000 women ages 15 to 19 was 47 percent, according to County Data Book records. Although a decrease from previous years, the rate is still higher than the state’s 31.6 percent. County records also revealed that 54 percent of the births from 2009 to 2011 in Merced were Medi-Cal insured deliveries.
Although the recently published study took place among the mostly black population of urban Memphis, the methods used in California are pretty similar, Vittore said.
“The population is different but we cover the same topics and the same time frames,” she said. “The interventions that showed the greatest reduction in maternal and child mortality are the ones we’re using here as well.”
NFP joins other home visitation programs in the county, such as the Adolescent Family Life Program/Young Parents Program, and the Maternal, Child and Adolescent Health Field Nursing program. It also complements the work done in the Early Head Start home visitation program from the Merced County Office of Education.
According to the report, the California Department of Public Health, has identified a need to expand home-visiting programs in all 58 counties to improve the health of low-income families.