Intermountain Nurse-Family Partnership guides first-time moms through an isolating time

Juli Joyce listens to a client during a consultation with the Intermountain Nurse-Family Partnership program on Friday, Sept. 4, 2020. Joyce and the other nurses in the program have been meeting clients virtually during the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Photo from Juli Joyce / Intermountain Nurse-Family Partnership

FRISCO — When Katy Warner’s water broke 10 weeks early she was scared, but, thanks to guidance from her nurse Juli Joyce, she was prepared. 

“I ended up going into preterm labor at 30 weeks,” said Warner, who lives in Granby. “I had to be rushed down to Denver to a facility that I wasn’t familiar with that had a (neonatal intensive care unit) available.”

Warner is one of many first-time moms who participate in the Intermountain Nurse-Family Partnership program which has been offered in Summit, Lake, Park, Gilpin, Clear Creek, Chaffee and Grand counties for nearly 20 years. The free program is available to first-time mothers who make less than 200% of the Federal Poverty Level.

The program matches new moms with a registered nurse, who helps guide them through their pregnancy and into motherhood until their baby is 2 years old. Because of Warner’s past medical history, Joyce told her to be prepared for a difficult pregnancy. 

“She prepared me for things that I didn’t even know I needed to be prepared for,” Warner said. “The last visit that I had before I went into preterm labor, she gave me a list of hospital bag suggestions or hospital bag must-haves and I don’t know what I would have done without that.” 

The program often starts with setting expectations for pregnancy and labor. Once the baby is born however, nurses help ease concerns, find resources and establish connections for the new moms. 

Warner’s daughter, Kiana, is now 6 months old, and acing her “ages and stages” assessments, a questionnaire Joyce asks at every meeting to see how the baby is progressing. 

Because Kiana was premature, Warner has been very careful to not expose herself to the novel coronavirus, which can make for an isolating experience. 

“It’s kind of like you’re in survival mode,” Warner said, speaking about being a new mother in the pandemic. “It’s very surreal. It doesn’t feel like the reality has really sunk in even though it’s our life now.”

For Warner, the partnership program has meant everything while she navigates being a new mom during a pandemic.

“There’s always a support person available, even if your family doesn’t live close,” she said. “There’s always someone who would be able to listen.”

Joyce and the other nurses in the program help clients with every aspect of being a new mom from breast feeding issues to navigating maternity leave negotiations. 

The program is designed to follow the lead of the mother, Joyce said. 

“No two stories are the same,” she said. “One of the things that I find really amazing is how powerful it is that we get to have these conversations with the women that we work with and find out what their strengths are.”

When the novel coronavirus pandemic hit, the nurses recognized that the program would be needed more than ever. It quickly switched to telehealth visits so meetings could continue. Organizers also started delivering diapers and other supplies to families.

“We really didn’t skip a beat,” said program supervisor Stephanie Munchoff. “Our nurses already had their caseloads that they were seeing and they were really wanting to provide support and information.”

Now, nurses have slowly begun visiting families in person. Joyce said the nurses only visit one family in person a week with strict rules of doing symptom checks, staying outside and wearing masks at all times. 

“Ultimately, we were this force for continuing to recognize these moms were still pregnant,” Munchoff said. “These moms still had these really young babies they were watching for development and trying to get into well-child checks or trying to get into prenatal care.”

While this time has been challenging, it has helped grow connections between nurses and moms. 

“What I really love about (the partnership) is that I get the breadth of time that I do working with families and really get to know them on their journey,” Joyce said. “It’s just priceless. It’s an honor and a privilege getting to know people this way.”

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