mother with newborn
It’s another one of those best-kept secrets, an organization that assists many people and benefits society as a whole. The Healthy Start Prenatal and Infant Health Care Program helps to ensure that all moms and babies have access to the medical and community services they need. Imagine free services to help mothers and their babies up to three years old get started on a healthy path.
Intended for families with a higher risk of infant mortality and/or health problems, the Healthy Start Program offers moms a checklist to see if they qualify for services. Income is not the deciding factor. Rather the questionnaire is intended to identify moms who may not be getting the prenatal care they need, and have highly stressful lives for a variety of reasons. Babies who are eligible may have needed respiratory assistance after birth, are of low birth weight, have health problems at birth, or may have mothers who smoked, used alcohol and other drugs during pregnancy, among other eligibility criteria.
Consider “Paula”, a young mother who hadn’t quite finished high school when her child was born at a weight of four and a half pounds. Unmarried and ashamed of her condition, she didn’t know what prenatal care was or how to access it. Quite overwhelmed at being a new mother, she found Healthy Start to be a godsend and was so glad that she had received routine screening for eligibility before she was discharged from the hospital. Not only did she receive regular visits from a health care professional who encouraged her and taught her important parenting skills, she also received personal counseling and had someone to call when she needed help. Services were free and everything was strictly confidential.
Another mother, “Analiese”, couldn’t quit smoking even though she knew it wasn’t good for her soon to be born baby. Her partner wasn’t working and liked her to “party” with him sometimes, so her baby was also exposed to alcohol while in the womb. She felt stressed most of the time, and the fact that they moved several times and didn’t have much of a support system didn’t help matters. She didn’t know much about the birth process and was frightened by tales of painful deliveries. She was relieved when a co-worker told her about Healthy Start and helped her get into the program. After completing childbirth and nutrition classes, she is considering enrolling in a program to help her quit smoking. She figures she will need the money she spends on cigarettes to pay household bills. She may even give breast feeding a try, knowing it too will be a savings, it’s good for her and the baby, and that she will have the support of a health care professional when the baby is born.
“Corinne”, a stay at home wife and mother who couldn’t admit it to her doctor, confided one night to an emergency room nurse that she had a drug problem. She was managing to get through her days, but she feared for her baby’s health. It was her second pregnancy, and she was depressed and not so thrilled about having another baby. Her husband worked hard, and he was frustrated in not knowing how to help her. Knowing about Healthy Start, the nurse assisted this mom in completing the screening process and she became eligible almost immediately for much needed services.
“No judgments – just help when needed, that’s what Healthy Start is about,” states president elect Sue Goby, who becomes president of the board this June. As owner of Business Solutions of Naples, Inc., this experienced businesswoman knows that prenatal and infant care programs add up to big savings. “Every dollar spent on prevention saves six dollars in health costs and remedial care down the road,” she said. “Families benefit and society benefits as well. It’s worth every penny of the $2.5 million budget in state funds that Healthy Start administers,” she added. Mrs. Goby wants to get the word out about Healthy Start so that everyone eligible will benefit, and so that screenings are routine in hospitals and birthing centers. She also knows that as the public learns about Healthy Start, more civic groups, individuals, and businesses will help by donating baby supplies, making monetary donations, helping to sponsor or put on a fundraising event, and spreading the word about the program.
Last year about 18,000 women were served in Collier, Hendry, Glades, and Lee Counties by this program. Administrative offices are in Lee County, and administrative costs are kept to a minimum. Besides the state funds budgeted, additional funding comes through grants and an annual fundraiser. “In order to provide the quality care we are known for, we need and greatly appreciate community support,” said Mrs. Goby, explaining that the need for services exhausts the budget. . Speaking of the goals for the coming year, she stated that “we intend to open a thrift shop and are looking now for the right location.”
The Healthy Start Program has been in operation as a not-for-profit 501C(3) organization since 1992. It was formed during Lawton Chiles’ years as governor of Florida, when our state ranked embarrassingly high in the number of infant deaths. Governor Chiles knew that something had to be done to address this problem, because infants that score high on screening criteria were six times more at risk for infant death. Besides causing family tragedies, the costs of longer hospital stays, developmental delays, learning problems and health problems were staggering and a detriment to our health care and educational systems.
There are still too many babies born early and unhealthy. Ideally there would be none! Perhaps you or someone you know can benefit from the described services, or you may be looking for a service project for your organization.
You can reach Healthy Start at the administrative office at 239 425 6920, or Mrs. Goby at her office at 239 649 7100.