Maternal & Family Health Services Helps in Fight Against Infant Mortality

This editorial was originally published in the Citizen’s Voice on April 27, 2016.

Image taken at Maternal and Family Health location in downtown Wilkes-Barre, PA for LCCC "The Bridge" Alumni Magazine.

A recent report in USA Today, which cited a 13 percent drop in infant mortality rates over the last decade, is promising news on its face, but demands a much closer look at the larger picture—which reveals that the U.S. still has one of the highest infant mortality rates among developed countries.

As we celebrate Mothers’ Day across the U.S., we should all take pause to be grateful for the millions of babies born healthy in our country each year, but at the same time we should consider what needs to be done to significantly reduce infant mortality in a country that prides itself on its health system.

The most proven and promising way to reduce disparities in premature births that lead to deaths –the gap that exists for African Americans and other racial groups—is home visits by nurses. Maternal & Family Health Services’ Nurse-Family Partnership (NFP) is an evidence-based, community health program that serves low-income women pregnant with their first child. Every vulnerable new mom is partnered with a registered nurse early in her pregnancy and receives ongoing nurse visits for the duration of her pregnancy—and for two years following the child’s birth.

NFP is a life-transforming partnership for the mother and her child, and it helps families—and the communities in which they live—become stronger while saving money for the state, local and federal governments. In fact, independent research shows that when communities adopt the NFP model, they are making a smart investment with a solid return. For example, the RAND Corporation reports that for every dollar a community invests in NFP, they can see up to $5.70 in return!

Indeed, home visits by nurses have gotten a boost from the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and bi-partisan support from former President George W. Bush (who was the first to propose federal funding for it), current House Speaker Paul Ryan R-Wisconsin (who included it in his 2014 poverty plan) and President Obama, who last year proposed $15 billion in funding over 10 years to continue to expand ACA’s nurse home visits. What’s more, South Carolina’s Republican Gov. Nikki Haley recently announced $30 million in additional funding of the NFP in her state.

Despite these efforts, more than 23,000 babies a year die before their first birthdays, often after spending weeks or months in neonatal intensive care units. Mothers who received little or no prenatal care are about 40 percent more likely to have a child who dies in infancy.

The Center for American Progress estimates expanding the NFP to Medicaid-eligible first time mothers nationally would prevent 20,000 deaths and more than 400,000 premature deaths over a decade. Other studies have found that NFP visits reduced child abuse and neglect by nearly 50 percent and arrests of children by up to 60 percent.

All of this striking evidence prompted the Center to call on the federal government in November last year to give states the option of covering nurse-home visits with Medicaid funds and to loan states additional monies needed to expand the programs more.

At Maternal & Family Health Services, we wholeheartedly support any and all efforts that will support such important programs as NFP and we encourage actions from political leaders, like Gov. Haley, to approve more funding so we can possess the resources necessary to improve pregnancy outcomes and make our communities stronger and healthier.

In the meantime, our skilled and caring NFP nurses will continue to provide vulnerable mothers in our service area with the best possible care and resources for a health pregnancy, delivery and optimal post-natal care. I’m proud to relate that these dedicated nurses have positively impacted the lives of thousands of first-time mothers and their children, and it is our mission to continue to do so well into the future.

To learn more about Nurse Family Partnership or to donate a monetary gift in support of this life-transforming program, visit mfhs.org.

Bette Cox Saxton
President & CEO, Maternal & Family Health Services