Nurse program expands to Idaho

Grant paying for mentors to poor, first-time moms

A program proven to improve the lives of low-income, first-time mothers and their babies will be offered in Kootenai and Shoshone counties within the coming year, thanks to a cross-state collaboration.

The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare is contracting with the Spokane Regional Health District to bring the state’s first Nurse-Family Partnership to the two North Idaho counties.

The state will contract with Spokane’s health district because of an existing, successful program there. The Nurse-Family Partnership puts public health nurses into the homes of pregnant, first-time mothers for weekly or biweekly visits until the baby is born. The nurses then continue regular visits until the child turns 2.

In its four years at the Spokane health district, some 431 families have been served, with 174 families currently enrolled. Some 72 women have graduated.

Measureable outcomes in Spokane include improved prenatal health, fewer childhood injuries, a longer interval between first and second births, increased maternal employment and improved school readiness.

Idaho received a federal grant and conducted a needs assessment before deciding to begin the program in Kootenai and Shoshone counties. Factors considered included incidence of child abuse, juvenile crime arrests, domestic violence, high school drop-out rates and others.

Evidence shows that for every $1 invested in families through the Nurse-Family Partnership, more than $5 is saved through decreased spending on health care, child protection, criminal justice, mental health and public assistance.

The state will contract with the Spokane health district’s established program to give Idaho’s nascent program a better chance of success, said Laura DeBoer, health program manager for the state’s maternal, infant and early childhood home visiting program.

A subcontractor in Idaho then would apply to the Spokane health district to implement the program in Kootenai and Shoshone counties. However, the North Idaho nurses hired would become part of a team dually supervised by Spokane’s program administrator.

“It’s just amazing, some of the changes that can occur in these families,” said Susan Schultz, who runs the Spokane health district’s Nurse-Family Partnership.

Attending an informational meeting Wednesday were representatives from Panhandle Health District, Kootenai Medical Center and Mountain States Early Head Start. All expressed support for having the program in North Idaho. Lora Whalen, district director of Panhandle Health District, said her agency will apply to host the program.

“We’ve been talking about this for eight years and just haven’t had the funding,” Whalen said. “We look forward to collaborating with the Spokane Regional Health District.”

Laura Nash, a 25-year-old single mother in Spokane, is the first graduate of the program there. Three years ago, she said, she was a high school graduate working as a cashier and was about to become a mother for the first time. She was scared because she didn’t know where her life was headed. She thought for sure she would ruin her child’s life.

Today, she is working as a certified nursing assistant and studying toward becoming a nurse like her “mentor for life” — Rhonda Shrivastava, her nurse-family partner. Her 3-year-old daughter, Arianna, is “a very amazing, precocious, wonderful little girl who’s going to go far. I wanted my daughter to have a better life, but I didn’t know how.”

Nash said Idaho is lucky to be starting its first Nurse-Family Partnership. “So many lives have been blessed by it in Spokane,” she said. “It was a life saver for me.”

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