By William K. Alcorn
The Women, Infants and Children program is alive and providing services in Mahoning County despite the number of clinic sites being reduced from five to three.
The average monthly caseload assigned by the Ohio Department of Health, through which U.S. Department of Agriculture money for the WIC program flows, is 5,857 for fiscal year 2013 compared with 6,015 for fiscal year 2012.
Fawn Allison, program director, said, however, the caseload should start to grow as participants become familiar with the changes.
The WIC mission remains the same: Providing nutrition and breast-feeding education and supplemental, nutritious food to income eligible mothers and children.
What has changed is the number and locations of the WIC clinics caused by a reduction of the WIC grant. Also, the Mahoning WIC program, formerly operated by the Mahoning-Youngstown Community Action Program, came under the auspices of the Mahoning County District Board of Health, effective Oct. 1.
The $924,798 WIC grant for fiscal year 2013 (Oct. 1, 2012, through Sept. 30, 2013) is about one-third less than the $1.4 million received by MYCAP to operate the program in fiscal year 2012.
The grant comes from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and is distributed by the Ohio Department of Health’s Division of Family and Community Health. The funding cut necessitated a reduction in the number of sites from five to three, two of which are in new locations.
The clinic sites are at the Youngstown City Health Department, Oakhill Renaissance Place, 345 Oak Hill Ave., Youngstown; the Mahoning County Health Department, 50 Westchester Drive, Austintown; and Boardman WIC, 3920 Hillman Way.
Clinic sites closed were in Sebring and Struthers, at MYCAP on Fifth Avenue in Youngstown, and at 122 Westchester Drive in Austintown.
A priority is to get something going again in the Sebring area, either by providing transportation to one of the clinics or re-establishing a clinic there, said Patricia Sweeney, county health commissioner.
Women, Infants and Children programs have received severe funding cuts here and around the country, she said, explaining the reason for cutting the number of local WIC sites.
WIC is a special supplemental- nutrition program that helps income- eligible pregnant and breast-feeding women, women who recently had a baby, infants and children up to 5 who may be at medical or nutritional risk, Allison said.
Allison is one of about 14 former MYCAP WIC employees hired by the county health department to staff the WIC sites, and there are one or two positions yet to be filled, Sweeney said.
The program improves pregnancy outcomes by providing support services necessary for full-term pregnancies; reducing the incidence of low birth weight; and providing infants and children with a healthy start in life through improved nutrition, Allison said.
Eating health foods during pregnancy lowers health-care costs by increasing the baby’s birth weights and health outcomes. For every $1 spent in WIC, $3 are saved in health-care costs, Allison said.
The best thing WIC offers is nutritional education, especially in view of the childhood obesity epidemic. The program has reduced the amount of cheese on the authorized food list and added highly nutritious foods such as fruits and vegetables, whole wheat bread and cereals, eggs, milk, and iron-fortified infant formula.
Also, she said a big part of WIC is breast-feeding education.
“We promote breast-feeding and have a support group, Breastfeeding Peer Helper, where women who have success breast-feeding help those who want it. Peer group members carry cellphones and can be called in the evening and on weekends,” Allison said.
WIC also makes referrals to prenatal and pediatric health care and other maternal and child health and human service programs such as Head Start, Medicaid and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps.
The WIC program is also a finan- cial asset to the community. It brings about $1.4 million a year into Mahoning County, Allison said.
The transition is going smoothly. The people who had been at Struthers have transferred nicely into the clinics in Boardman and Austintown, and the clients seem happy with the new clinics at the city and county health departments.
“And I love having the babies around,” she added.