Op-Ed: Home visiting, a first step for a healthier future

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Op-Ed: Home visiting, a first step for a healthier future

Tue, 02/27/2018 - 12:31pm -- tim

by Mary Kate Mohlman, Director, Health Care Reform and Jolinda LaClair, Director, Drug Prevention Policy, Agency of Human Services Each year almost 6,000 women check out of a Vermont hospital with their newborn. As they leave, behind them is a place filled with doctors, nurses, lactation consultants, food, and the resources to address almost any emergency. There is a sense of security and safety. In front of them is a car, a heavy, awkward car seat, and a drive to a home where the joys and challenges of caring for an infant await them. This moment is daunting for any family, and especially one struggling with addiction.

As Vermont’s health care system shifts its focus to primary and preventive services, Governor Phil Scott has proposed an initiative to better support the health and well-being of families and their babies from the beginning: voluntary home visits available to all Vermont newborns and additional support for pregnant women and mothers with opioid addiction.

While Vermont offers some sustained home visiting services now, these focus on at-risk families and miss the opportunity to get all Vermont’s kids off to a healthier start. The additional investment in all Vermont newborns builds on the existing home visiting framework and is an important part of supporting children and families along a healthier path.

The transition from hospital to home with a baby, whether the first, second, or third, is exciting and stressful. Home visits and nursing support for newborns and families offer critical assistance ranging from health care to emotional and social supports. These services include checking on the development and health of the child, screening the mother for post-partum depression, supporting breastfeeding, linking families to community activities, or referring families to services.

Studies of a universal home visiting program find that families participating in the program have lower emergency care costs, reduced maternal anxiety, improved parenting behaviors, and higher home environment quality.

To address the demographic challenges Vermont faces, Governor Scott remains focused on reversing three troubling trends. For years, Vermont has seen six fewer workers in the workforce, three fewer children in our public school system, and one child born exposed to opioids – every single day, on average. Universal home visits are important to reversing these 6-3-1 trends, with a core focus on the “1” by providing an avenue for referrals to treatment for new mothers.

Vermont’s sustained home visits, which continue up to the child’s second birthday, address a variety of challenges families face, including the health risks associated with substance abuse. While home visits cannot remove all the hardships experienced by families, nurses working with mothers, their babies, and families in a home environment can promote preventive health practices during pregnancy, support responsible care for children, and help families develop a vision for their future.

The home visiting proposal is currently before the House Appropriations Committee. This Administration looks forward to working with the Legislature to fund this proposal. Whether it is making that walk from the hospital to the car a little less daunting, identifying post-partum depression at an early stage, or providing families with the additional assistance needed to face addiction and other challenges, Governor Scott is committed to supporting the well-being of families and making Vermont an even better place to raise our children.