Funding deadline looms for program that matches nurses and new mothers

A Nurse-Family Partnership nurse visits a mother in Raleigh in 2013. Nurse-Family Partnership sends nurses to help out families with newborns.
A Nurse-Family Partnership nurse visits a mother in Raleigh in 2013. Nurse-Family Partnership sends nurses to help out families with newborns. tiwabu@newsobserver.com

I’ve called North Carolina my home for 50 years. I’ve met some of my dearest friends, created a small business, and watched my family and community grow here. An important part of healthy growth in our community relies on supporting mothers and giving children an equal opportunity to succeed – starting with a healthy pregnancy.

Each year in North Carolina, 20,000 children are born to first-time, low-income mothers who are at the greatest risk of suffering health, education and economic disparities – disparities that perpetuate a vicious cycle of poverty. Luckily, our state has access to a life-changing program called the Nurse-Family Partnership, which is a free community health program for vulnerable, low-income mothers pregnant with their first child. Nurse-Family Partnership connects mothers in communities across North Carolina with local maternal and child health nurses, who offer support for healthy pregnancies, effective parenting and a strong start in infancy. When mothers and babies benefit, we all benefit.

But this critical program is in danger. In less than a week, federal funding for Nurse-Family Partnership will discontinue unless Congress reauthorizes the MIECHV program, which has served just under 1,000 families in the state since 2010. And if elected officials in Washington don’t reauthorize or appropriately fund the program by Sept. 30, communities across North Carolina may no longer see the program’s long-term benefits. To change health outcomes for more families, we need stable, predictable funding that allows our state to meet the growing demand of these services. We need reauthorization now.

I first learned of Nurse-Family Partnership while I was sitting on the Prevent Child Abuse North Carolina board. I decided to join the board of the N.C. Nurse-Family Partnership because I wanted to focus on prevention when it needs to start – before children are born. There is nothing more important to the health and well-being of a child than the bond with his or her mother. If a young mother can establish a loving and healthy relationship with her baby, she will empower herself and her baby as she develops through childhood.

Established nearly two decades ago, Nurse-Family Partnership has served 5,684 families in 25 counties across the state. By connecting pregnant women with registered nurses who check in regularly through home visits, we see significant improvement in pregnancy outcomes, including a reduction in preterm births and fewer high-risk pregnancies.

The program, however, goes far beyond preventative health practices. Take Shelley, for example, whose story I learned about through my time on the board. She was partnered with a prenatal nurse during her first pregnancy at 23 years old. With the support of her Nurse-Family Partnership nurse, Barb, she set goals to be the best mom that she can be, and is one of the 91 percent of North Carolina women in the program who give birth to a child at full term.

I’m also proud to report the program motivated Shelley to go back to school and become a nurse herself. The choices Shelley and many other Nurse-Family Partnership mothers make regarding their health, education and economic self-sufficiency in the early stages of pregnancy ensure North Carolina’s children have safe, nurturing relationships that they need to become healthy and productive residents.

Congress needs to continue to support our program to strengthen families at a time when it matters most: from the very start of a baby’s entrance into the world.

Partha Daughtridge serves as a board member for the N.C. Nurse-Family Partnership.