Colorado groups marks 15 years of affirming family health | SummitDaily.com

Colorado groups marks 15 years of affirming family health

More than 1,000 fresh flowers greeted attendees of the 15th anniversary celebration for the region's Nurse-Family Partnership on Monday morning in Frisco.

That bulk of bouquets represented the nearly 1,100 women who have come through the program, which provides nurse home-visitation services to low-income, first-time mothers since it began in the area in April 2001. The program specifically strives to improve pregnancy outcomes through proven preventative health measures, enhance child development through responsible care and create economic self-sufficiency for these families.

Over the occasional cries of infants on hand, clients and local personnel expressed their great joy in the program and its impact in the intermountain community, as well as around the state. Firmly rooted in theoretically-based models, the program hopes to provide education, support and a helping hand during what can be a family's first foray into parenthood though a woman's pregnancy and until the child reaches age 2.

"It helps to empower them to follow their own goals," said Carol Vickery, a longtime nurse home-visitor in Clear Creek and Gilpin counties. "It's a really wonderful, powerful tool, and we believe that clients are an expert on their own health; so, if only a small change is necessary, we only make changes a little at a time."

“It’s so exciting to really show the staff and the community that we are achieving the outcomes that were originally identified.”Amy Winelanddirector Summit County Public Health

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The proof is in the results. Through its platform, the program has bested state percentages for premature births, low birth weights, breast feeding and immunizations, in addition to helping encourage increased numbers of new mothers to curb smoking, complete additional education and enter the workforce.

Clients who took part in the event on Monday at the Summit County Community and Senior Center had nothing but praise to offer.

"When I got pregnant, I thought, 'Oh my gosh, what is this that I've gotten myself into?'" explained Twin Lakes resident Nadine Castillo. "I was really scared because what I wanted was just to be a good parent with my husband for our daughter and be able to have a healthy pregnancy."

About four months into expecting, she signed up through Lake County's program and is now the mother of 3-year-old daughter Izabella. During the prenatal process, the nurse she worked with made recommendations for carbon monoxide detectors, and, through joint goals of a healthy environment for their daughter, her husband even kicked his 15-year smoking habit.

Today, Castillo is so strong a believer in the Nurse-Family Partnership (NFP) that she's now a member of its community board in her area and would even prefer the program extended further.

"I was sad to have those two years come up and graduate," she said. "I really wish that they would go longer, but, even to this day, I go and peek in on the ladies when I have questions for them. It's just an awesome program; I really loved it."

"Labor was like my biggest fear," added Zuylema Arias of Silverthorne, mother of 9-month-old Sherlene. "(She) just encouraged me to not be afraid and to not be scared, and that everything was going to be worth it. And it was, and now I have a happy little girl."

Fran Jimenez, Arias' nurse who works out of Summit and Lake counties, also helped her client obtain a driver's license and then later on with securing a job. Arias said Jimenez feels like family — more like Sherlene's grandmother than anything else.

"We love her," she said.

That was the framework in mind when the program was initiated locally through parent organization, Invest in Kids. Colorado first partnered with the program in 1999 and now is available in 61 of 64 of the state's counties, including seven regionally: Summit, Clear Creek, Gilpen, Lake, Park, Chaffee and most recently Grand.

Invest in Kids' executive director Lisa Hill spoke briefly to discuss how the umbrella organization has helped advocate for the NFP program at the legislative level and worked to get the Nurse Home-Visitor Act passed in Colorado in 2000. That established funding through the state's Tobacco Master Settlement reserves, and, after continuing to show the program's benefits — as well as a consistent 5-to-1 return-on-investment ratio for every $1 spent — Invest in Kids lobbied for a new bill this year that expands funding to make up for cost-of-living increases at about an additional $90 million over the next 20 years.

The intermountain program is part of Summit County Public Health and is presently staffed by eight nurse home-visitors, serving 145 families. These individuals take on a caseload of as many as 25 families each and drop in every week or two to assist families and answer questions. And NFP recipients remain ever so grateful.

"I was completely lost about how to teach my daughter to take a nap or certain habits I had no idea how to teach her," said Dillon's Helky Kitners of soon-to-be 3-year-old Naya. "(NFP) is how I survived the first two years with her. I was pregnant a few months after moving here from Peru, and I needed that. It was great."

Supervisors of the program Lynne Easterly and Amy Wineland, director of Summit County Public Health, emphasize data to back up NFP's impact. From improved birth weights to fewer childhood injuries and longer periods of time between subsequent pregnancies — a stat that shows increases benefit the health of future children — the program is having particularly positive and long-term effects in the region.

"It's so exciting to really show the staff and the community that we are achieving the outcomes that were originally identified," said Wineland. "We're having amazing outcomes with all of this work."

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