For now, virtual meetings, not in-home visits
BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) -- Bringing a baby into this world is widely considered a miracle. However, that miracle can come with challenges. If you or someone you know is expecting a baby and has questions, a new program called Family Connects Oregon soon will be ready to give you answers.
"We don't have a parent manual that comes with us, with a baby," said Brenda Comini, the regional Early Learning Hub director and a key player in bringing Family Connects to the High Desert. "So just being able to reassure parents, everything from, are they developing appropriately? Are they the right size for what they should be?"
The Family Connects program will take families of newborns and connect them with registered nurses in each county’s health department. It's free, and optional.
For those who choose to enroll, they’ll meet with a nurse when their baby is around 3 weeks old. and then they can schedule up to two more visits before the baby turns 6 months old.
After that, they’ll get some help connecting with other resources in the community.
The pandemic has presented some challenges in the program's rollout. Home visits have been reduced to virtual meetings, for now.
“It is not the same as in-person, and we will welcome the day we can go back to in-person,” Comini told NewsChannel 21 Wednesday. “But we have figured out effective ways to offer those just like this, over Zoom, to have personal conversation."
Comini said the program will begin in Central Oregon at the end of September. In the beginning, it'll only be offered to families who are on the Oregon Health Plan in Jefferson and Crook counties and parts of Deschutes County (the 97701 and 97703 zip codes).
However, in a couple of years, she expects it will be offered to everyone. The program will not be limited to pregnant women. People who are adopting, or looking to become foster parents, will also be able to access the same resources.
Here's the full press release the Oregon Health Authority sent out recently:
Oregon Health Authority is encouraging families with newborns to take advantage of the free, optional nurse home visiting program known as Family Connects Oregon, which continues its roll-out in communities statewide.
Family Connects Oregon, which launched in February 2020 following the passage of Senate Bill 526 during the 2019 legislative session, provides voluntary, universally offered nurse home visiting services to all families with newborns living in the state, no matter their income, location or insurance status. Oregon is the first in the country to offer these services statewide and require private insurance providers to pay for them.
Sen. Elizabeth Steiner Hayward, M.D., who chief sponsored SB 526, says the universally offered home visiting program is about “offering families services that will help them parent in the ways that are best for them.”
“Home visiting is about meeting families where they are, assessing if they have any needs, and helping connect them to the right resources to meet those needs,” says Steiner Hayward, a family physician.
The program is simple: Every new Oregon parent of a newborn is contacted by a health care provider shortly after birth to schedule a home visit. Families choose to accept or decline the service. There is no cost, and everyone can participate. Families that choose to enroll receive one to three visits by a registered nurse in their homes—or virtually, if they prefer—to check on the family and help them access services uniquely tailored to their needs.
State-licensed registered nurses provide in-home services to families caring for newborns up to 6 months old, including fostered and adopted newborns. Services aim to improve outcomes in child health, child development and school readiness, family economic self-sufficiency, maternal health and positive parenting, while reducing child mistreatment, juvenile delinquency, family violence and crime.
“This is all about providing the fundamental, foundational elements for lifelong health,” says Steiner Hayward. “Nutrition support, housing support, parenting education support—those are traditionally not considered health interventions, but they are.”
Family Connects identifies what families want from local resources, then provides an individualized pathway into a community system of care, including referrals to other, more intensive home visiting programs in the community. Through the program families get access to obstetricians and primary care providers, pediatricians and family practice physicians, mental health services, housing agencies and lactation support organizations. Organizing Family Connects Oregon regionally allows the network of providers and support services to be in line with what that specific community needs—meaning services are more accessible, local and culturally specific.
One of the early adopters of the Family Connects model in 2020 was the Marion & Polk Early Learning Hub, which operates the home visiting program through a partnership that includes Marion County Public Health, Polk County Public Health, Family Building Blocks/Healthy Families, Lancaster Family Medical and Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde. The collaborative’s two Family Connects nurses, Monica Aguiar and Araya Garcia of Marion County Health & Human Services, say the process for using Family Connects services is straightforward.
After their babies are born, new parents are asked in the hospital whether they’d like to receive a home visit. If so, a county public health staff member follows up after a few days to schedule a videoconference or telephone visit. During the visit, which lasts 90 minutes to two hours, Aguiar or Garcia discuss at least a dozen topics with the parent, covering such areas as mother and baby health, bottle feeding, safe sleep, shaken baby syndrome, tummy time, temperatures and infections, car seat use, and whether the family has enough money to pay bills. They also discuss safe firearm storage, drug and alcohol use, and relationship safety.
Aguiar says response has been good. “This program has been awesome because even if (participants) don’t have too much going, even if they got most of it figured out, most people still need that one little resource or referral just to make sure they have everything they need to be successful in their home,” she says.
Garcia agrees. While some families may not have many needs or questions, they appreciate the time with her to check in on the health of the baby and the whole family. “Families that have partaken in virtual home visits thus far have been very appreciative of our services,” she says. “Some families have a lot of questions about their newborn and are thankful for a time to express their thoughts and receive tips and feedback. I have had many families tell me they wish this service was available for their other kids when they were born.”
Aguiar can relate. She admits she probably would have taken advantage of Family Connects had it been in available when her eldest son, now 8, was born. “It would have been really nice to have a nurse there to say ‘This is completely normal, a lot of people struggled with these things, here’s what we can do to help you get through this phase,’” Aguiar says.
Aguiar’s sister, Viviana Bermudez of Salem, received Family Connects home visits from Garcia after her son, Amari Santo, was born four months ago. Bermudez found information she received through the program about “what the baby goes through in different months, different (maternal warning) signs to look out for” most helpful.
“I actually referred a friend who had a baby the same day as me,” Bermudez says. “I told her what the (Family Connects) program is and that they give you information you may not know. It helps to know different stages of growth” of the baby.