Lawrence County officials hope the program will help decrease the county's rate of teen-age pregnancy.
By LAURE CIOFFI
VINDICATOR NEW CASTLE BUREAU
NEW CASTLE, Pa. -- Nicole Langer wasn't sure about a nurse's coming to visit her when she was pregnant with her daughter, Destinee.
"I was really young and still wild. I still wanted to run around and do stuff. Now that I know her [the nurse], she's wonderful. I wouldn't trade her for the world," said Langer, 18, of Erie, Pa.
Langer and her 19-month-old daughter are part of a program in Erie County that brings nurses into the homes of first-time mothers to help them have healthier pregnancies and babies and learn how to be better parents.
In March, that same program, the Nurse-Family Partnership, was launched in Lawrence County by Jameson Health System and its affiliate, the Children's Advocacy Center, thanks to a $300,000 grant from the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency. There are about 16 women in the program right now.
Registered nurses go to the homes of first-time low-income mothers to talk about health, nutrition, baby care and setting goals.
"We are hoping to improve the health of the women's pregnancy and to promote healthy child development with this program," said Sue Ascione, director of the Children's Advocacy Center in Lawrence County.
Lawrence County's rate of teen pregnancy has remained stagnant as other counties in the Mahoning and Shenango valleys have seen drops in the teen pregnancy rate, Ascione said. Health studies have also shown a high number of low-birth weight babies and women not seeking prenatal care in the county, she said.
But they are hoping the Nurse-Family Partnership will help solve some of these problems.
National studies on the program show participants aren't as prone to child abuse, crime and unwanted pregnancies later in life as those who didn't get the early support the program is designed to provide.
The county started its own similar program a few years ago called Family Footsteps, but realized it needed to do more, Ascione said.
The Nurse-Family Partnership sets strict guidelines for the number of pregnant women in the program and provides assistance materials for the nurses to give them. Pennsylvania has hired a private company, called Public Private Ventures, to oversee the more than 20 sites in the state.
All of the sites receive help from the University of Colorado, which administers the Nurse-Family Partnership materials.
But nurses in the Lawrence County program say its been tough gaining the trust of some pregnant women.
"One client was afraid we were going to take her baby away," said nurse Karen Lewis.
The nurses spend their visits to the homes talking to women about their baby's development and health and helping them solve any other problems. Some have transportation or living problems, others just need someone to talk to, the nurses said.
Nurse Diane Gwin said she's been helping her pregnant mothers with smoking cessation and school truancy problems.
Nurse Tiffany Lutz said she helped one teen-age mother find new housing when Lutz discovered she was living in a condemned trailer.
But nurse Mary Ellen Penwell stresses the program isn't limited to single teen-age mothers having problems. Some are older, married women who are having their first babies and just need someone to talk to, she said.
Ascione said the income guidelines allow for a wide range of first-time mothers to join. Anyone with a family income of 250 percent above federal poverty guidelines is eligible. That means a family of two earning $29,850 per year would be eligible.
The program started in Elmira, N.Y., more than two decades ago, and follow-up studies 15 years later showed fewer behavior problems and criminal arrests among the children and parents who participated.
In Erie County, where Langer sees her visiting nurse, studies showed that after the first year more women who participated are breast-feeding than they would normally see in that population, and there has been a decrease in school truancy in teen-age mothers, said Charlotte Berringer, the Erie County health department's director of community health services.
"We find it to be a very positive experience for the mothers. The whole program is geared toward working with the strengths of the family," she said.
Langer said it helped her become a better parent and deal with problems her daughter, Destinee, had at birth when her right hand became lodged in Langer's pelvic bone and damaged nerves leaving the baby's arm limp.
Erie nurse Pat Weis visited Langer every week when she first started the program and now comes by every other week. During each visit they go over Destinee's development and talk about how she should be progressing.
Langer said she doesn't look forward to Destinee's 2nd birthday in October because it means her home nurse visits will end.
"I tell other mothers to give it a chance. I love it," she said.