Group to study if Miss. needs nurse visit program

Published 5:33 pm Friday, July 25, 2008

A health advocacy group is studying whether Mississippi should start a program to provide nurse visits to the homes of all low-income, first-time parents and their children.

The Mississippi Health Advocacy Program, a nonprofit public policy organization, has received a $400,000 grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation to conduct the study, which will include a series of forums across the state to gauge health care needs.

The group wants to determine if Mississippi could sustain a Nurse-Family Partnership program, which already operates in 25 other states.

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The program touts numerous benefits including improved prenatal health, fewer subsequent pregnancies, fewer childhood injuries and improved school readiness.

Under the program, registered nurses visit mothers in their homes every one or two weeks during pregnancy and throughout their child’s first two years. They offer guidance on breast-feeding, child development, parenting and education and work force options.

“The issue is around investment in child care. There really isn’t a great focus on investment in children’s health in the state,” Jacquelyn Weatherspoon, a program manager for MHAP, said Thursday.

House Public Health Chairman Steve Holland, D-Plantersville, said he believes the program could improve access to health care in the state.

“It’s something we desperately need,” Holland said.

The program is paid for with public funds, said Lauren Baker, director of marketing and communications for Nurse Family Partnership, a Denver-based nonprofit organization that assists communities in setting up the program.

Baker said the average cost is about $4,500 per family per year. She said states use different methods to come up with the funding. For instance, Colorado uses its tobacco settlement and several states use Medicaid.

The MHAP estimates there are almost 103,000 children in Mississippi without health coverage.

The state Department of Health had provided nurse home visits to mothers who receive Medicaid within the first week after they gave birth, but stopped when Medicaid no longer paid the reimbursement, said Dr. Ed Thompson, Mississippi’s State Health Officer.

Thompson said the Department of Health still provides nurse home visits to new mothers in high-risk situations.

“We would certainly like to do more,” he said.

Thompson said the concept of nurse home visits is nothing new, but he said it’s very effective. Thompson said he believes that kind of care could help address the state’s infant mortality problems, though he had no scientific data to support his theory.

In 2005, Mississippi had the nation’s highest infant mortality rate at 11.4 deaths per 1,000 live births, Thompson said. In 2006, the most recent figures available, the rate was 10.6.