Nurses mentor healthier families in Plymouth County

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Editor's Note: The last name of the parent is not used in this news story in order to protect the mother's identity.

Sally learns more about caring for her daughter each time she opens the door to her home for a visit from a nurse from the Healthy Families program.

"They give me information I don't feel I would have known if I hadn't been part of this program because this was my first child and I'm a single mom," she said.

Healthy Families is a program which supports families of newborns.

The goal of the free Healthy Families program offered by Floyd Valley Community Health, in Le Mars, is strengthening families in the first three years of a child's life by providing safe, nurturing environments.

Amy Skov and Rhonda Lassen, Floyd Valley Community Health nurses, make home visits every two weeks to parents expecting a child.

The nurses are also in the homes of parents for the first six months after a baby is born.

"For example, if the baby is 2 weeks old, I go into the home and find out how the baby is eating, how their general health is and how the mom is doing," Skov explained.

That is the health and nutrition focus of the Healthy Families program.

"We also do a development component screening the baby, for example, to make sure they're rolling when they're supposed to roll," Lassen said.

Lassen described some of the nurses' work as mentoring.

"We might show them how to hold the baby," she said. "Some of the moms just need simple advice on how to interact with that baby and teach them language skills and that sort of thing."

Recognizing what the baby wants is another part of the mentoring, according to Deb Steffen, Floyd Valley Community health nurse manager.

Lassen said she and Skov often call themselves "masters of resources."

Resourcefulness from others was something Sally, a new mother, needed when she became part of the Healthy Families program offered throughout Plymouth County.

"As a nursing mother, they helped me find out where to rent a breast pump and gave me information about different programs to assist with nutrition such as Women Infants and Children (WIC)," she said.

The program also emphasizes the physical and emotional needs of parents.

"If a mom has post-partum depression we'll refer them to Plains Area Mental Health Center or their physician," Lassen said.

Many of the mothers want to get back into school to improve their life so the nurses also serve as resources for that goal, according to Steffen.

Setting goals is another way the nurses help parents develop healthy families, Lassen said.

"Sometimes it's just educating them on how to make goals," she explained.

Skov said the nurses are trained to empower parents.

Floyd Valley Community Health follows the curriculum in a national program, Healthy Families.

The program is evidence and research-based, Steffen said.

Floyd Valley Community Health is accredited to offer the program and is currently in the renewal process for that accreditation.

Dollars to serve to families, at no cost, are provided through Northwest Iowa Early Childhood Iowa.

Takysia Larsen, Northwest Iowa Early Childhood Iowa, directs the program in Plymouth and three other northwest Iowa counties and is a resource for Floyd Valley Community Health's Healthy Families program.

"She has a strong early childhood background and basically we let her know what our needs are," Steffen said.

Healthy Families is a voluntary program, according to Steffen.

"I think people see that it makes a difference and we've gotten people involved because they've been referred by other families," she said. "They feel it's made a difference in their life and it's a totally voluntary program so if they don't want to be involved they are not in the program."

Parents who are interested in nurturing healthy families may obtain information by contacting Floyd Valley Community Health at 546-3335.

Sally learned about the in-home visits through a mailing she received after her daughter was born nearly a year ago.

Her newborn was in a neo-natal intensive care unit at a Sioux City hospital.

Births at Floyd Valley Hospital are screened for risks, according to Steffen.

Lassen said those risks could also include a parent who is a single mom or a teenage mom.

"It might be someone who has a history of depression, a history of drug or alcohol abuse or someone who doesn't have a good support system," she said.

Steffen said the parents may have moved to the area and their family is in another state.

Other sources of referrals for Healthy Families may be from physicians, school nurses or Mid-Sioux Opportunity's Maternal Health Program staff.

Healthy Families nurses' visits to offer support and guidance to Sally are now every two weeks instead of weekly because her daughter is nearly a year old.

The home visits with Sally and other parents are eventually reduced to monthly, Steffen said.

"The goal is to have a family enrolled in Healthy Families until the child enters a school program -- be it a preschool program, a Head Start-type program -- so they can be in the program anywhere from three to five years," she said.

Lassen said the nurses develop relationships with the families.

"I really consider it a privilege that they invite us into their homes because a home is a sacred place for families" she said.

When the program ends for a family the nurses still hear from parents.

"They're still calling us and asking us for advice -- it's like building a friendship with these moms," Lassen said.

Parents like Sally echo the nurses' views.

"It's a great experience," Sally said.

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