First-time mothers reaping benefits of nurse/family partnership program

Becky Campbell • Jun 28, 2017 at 11:36 PM

A grant-funded program designed for low-income, first-time expectant mothers to provide support for improved health outcomes for themselves and their babies is paying off in a big way.

“I called my mom the next day and said, ‘I saved two lives today,’” said home visiting nurse Christie Reining, who is part of the partnership at East Tennessee State University’s College of Nursing. That call came after she urged a woman in the program to go to the emergency room due to high blood pressure and the fact her baby wasn't moving much and had low oxygen.

The woman, Reining said, was concerned that medical staff would detect the klonapin she had taken without a prescription, which led her to wait nearly a week before taking Reining’s advice. Within two hours of arriving at the hospital, the woman had an emergency Cesarean section because the umbilical cord was wrapped around the baby’s neck, robbing it of critical oxygen.

It was one of two emergency situations that Reining was involved in that ended with life-saving efforts for the mother and baby.

“The need for a program like we have is just phenomenal,” Reining said. “We have high incidents of NAS (neonatal abstinence syndrome)-born babies in our community, low-income pregnant women. We will go into the home and provide these women support and encouragement throughout the pregnancy.”

Through a $3.3 million grant from the Tennessee Department of Human Services, the Nurse Family Partnership program at ETSU takes a two-generational approach to breaking the cycle of poverty.

More than 40 years of evidence shows that Nurse Family Partnership has been successful in improving birth outcomes, child health and development, and the family’s economic self-sufficiency. It emphasizes providing the mothers with opportunities in four key areas — education, economic supports, health and well-being and social capital.

Registered nurses are assigned as case managers for each participant and make house calls every two weeks, and sometimes weekly, during the woman’s pregnancy. The program is designed for the nurse to work with the family for the first two years of the child’s life.

Reining said requirements for first-time expectant mothers to join the program is they be no more than 28 weeks pregnant and they qualify for SNAP (food stamps) or TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) benefits.

She said 28 weeks pregnant is the cutoff because the evidence-based research shows that after that point, the mother-to-be doesn't get the full benefit of the program and “being able to change and make that pregnancy a health outcome.” 

The program is available for free and on a volunteer basis to low-income, pregnant, first-time moms in Carter, Greene, Hancock, Hawkins, Johnson, Sullivan, Unicoi and Washington counties. The ETSU College of Nursing is undertaking the effort in conjunction with ETSU’s Center for Community Outreach and Applied Research.

A community advisory board also has been developed to help guide the program.

Referrals come from OBGYN offices, but Reining said anyone who qualifies can contact the Northeast Tennessee Nurse-Family Partnership Program at 423-439-6068. Interested pregnant women can also text or call 423-900-3160 for the information.

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