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Federal funding extended to visiting nurse program for new mothers

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At a handful of Los Angeles area hospitals, women who give birth receive a bedside visit from a nurse who interviews them about what they expect when they take their baby home. It's part of a nurse home-visiting program, similar to ones funded through the Affordable Care Act, which just received a six-month funding extension by Congress on Monday. 

Nancy Tsuyuki is a nurse and the manager for Community Health at Providence Little Company of Mary hospital in San Pedro. Part of her job is to ensure that each new mother in the maternity ward is screened to see if she might need extra assistance when she takes her newborn home. The goal is to identify mothers who would benefit from a regular visit by a nurse or social worker.

Tsuyuki told KPCC it's not just low-income families that the program serves. "We’re actually looking at all moms," she said, "because most new moms don’t know what type of help they really need."

Babies should be breastfed, Tsuyuki said. Some mom’s don’t realize this and need support to do it. Tsuyuki's team of nurses also wants to ensure that babies will be enrolled in health insurance, that their homes are free of potential safety hazards - and the team even checks on potential challenges like a new mom’s transportation options. 

"How do you get around? Do you drive? Do you use the bus?" Tsuyuki asks new moms. "We’re telling them to go to doctor’s visits but then they tell us they don’t have a way to get from Wilmington to Torrance, you know, we’re expecting a lot of them."

Tsuyuki's program, called "Welcome Baby" is funded by First 5 LA and is one of 13 participating area hospitals. Welcome Baby aims to serve 38,000 babies by 2016.

The program that Congress just voted to extend is called the Maternal, Infant and Early Education Home Visiting (MIECHV) program. It began in 2010 as part of the Affordable Care Act. Like the Providence program, it is designed to provide intensive in-home services to at-risk mothers who are pregnant or have a child under 2. The program has bi-partisan support. 

Federal guidelines require programs be high-quality and evidence-based. The goal is to ensure infants get the best possible start in social, physical and cognitive development.

Advocates applauded Congress for the extension. Kris Perry, executive director of First Five Fund – a national non-profit that pushes for early education and health programs – called it a “another big win for our nation’s children and families.”

Yet she cautioned that a six month extension is not enough. "Short-term funding extensions are no way to run effective programs," Perry said. "Without a long-term extension of years, not months, it will be difficult for home visiting providers to think strategically about how their programs can best serve their communities."

California’s share of the funding from MIECHV for this current year was $20.2 million. Los Angeles County Department of Public Health has overseen home visitation programs since 1996, and has been able to serve an additional 250 families with its share of the federal monies.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that the Providence program would end in September if the funding was not extended by Congress. The program is funded by First 5 LA and would continue regardless of the federal funding. KPCC regrets the error. 

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