On a recent Monday, Fidelia Ortiz met with the nurse who had helped guide her through pregnancy and early motherhood. But there were no waiting rooms, no sterile exam tables at this visit.
Nurse Lisa Fredrickson simply arrived at Ortiz’s northwest Santa Rosa home with a large bag in her hand, greeted Ortiz and plopped down on the floor with 9-month-old Logan.
“Hola. How are you? You look so big today,” she told the baby, who was busy crawling around the apartment. He settled in on a rubbery ABC floor mat, holding his foot and grinning as Fredrickson and Ortiz discussed everything from Ortiz’s new job to child care and how to get Logan, a very active baby, more interested in reading.
As a county public health nurse, Fredrickson has aimed to support Ortiz physically and emotionally throughout pregnancy and the first two years of Logan’s life. She works for a program called the Nurse-Family Partnership that each year provides home visits to about 140 low-income, first-time mothers who choose the service, with the goal of giving the young family a boost during a particularly formative period for mother and child.
“A big part of (the program) is the relationship that nurses have over time with the client,” said Elisabeth Chicoine, county director of public health nursing.
Developed in the 1970s by University of Colorado pediatrics professor David Olds, the Nurse-Family Partnership has grown into a national, rigorously tested program operating in 43 states. It’s goal is breaking the cycle of poverty by providing low-income, first-time mothers the consistent support they might otherwise lack in the form of a trained nurse who visits her throughout pregnancy and the first years of her child’s life. Local health department officials say it results in women who are healthier during pregnancy, more self-sufficient and better equipped to be mothers, as well as children who go on to be happier and healthier adults.
“Through the trusted support of a nurse, NFP reaches a woman living in poverty at a critical moment in her life, when she is pregnant with her first child,” said Fran Benton, a spokesperson for the national program. “Each nurse builds confidence in each mom and helps her meet her goals to provide for a brighter future for her child and stop harmful cycles of poverty.”
Chicoine added that pregnancy is a time when many women are particularly motivated to make changes. As well, nurses provide support during a key period in the baby’s early life when the child is making important and lasting neural connections.
Fredrickson said she has heard many of her clients say some version of the following: “I don’t want my kid to grow up the way I grew up. I don’t know how to be a mother, but I want to be a good one.”
“There’s a sense of, ‘I want to realize my potential’ that just flows out of them,” she said. “You don’t have to coax it. It’s there. It’s pretty cool.”
Sonoma County just wrapped up its fifth year with the national Nurse-Family Partnership, funded primarily with money from First 5 Sonoma County. Money for that program comes from a cigarette tax approved by voters in 1998 and brings with it a matching grant for additional federal Medicaid funds. Starting this month, the local program also receives federal funding through the California Home Visiting Program.