As a refugee awaiting her husband in the U.S., Eliza Shabire was overwhelmed when she found out she was pregnant with her first child. She lives with her extended family in Boise, Idaho but she needed help raising her child in a new environment, so her doctor referred her to the Nurse-Family Partnership program, which is currently operating in three of the state’s seven public health districts. It provides up to a thousand days of in-home care with a registered nurse through the pregnancy and up until the child’s second birthday.
“They were there for me when I needed them, and I didn’t have someone to answer a lot of questions that I had,” said Shabire, who recently became the program’s first client. “And you know, the doctor’s appointment is only 15, 20 minutes and they’re checking on you, but they don’t get that time to go in deep with each and every question.”
The program can accommodate up to 25 families per nurse. There are currently two visiting nurses on staff and the department is working on hiring a third.
Home pre- and post-natal visits yield a stunning return on investment when you look at the numbers. According to a 2015 study by the national think tank RAND Corp., family-nurse partnerships delivered about $6.70 in economic benefit for every dollar spent. The potential benefits are more pronounced among low-income families where every $7,300 spent on the program would save approximately $33,000 in government spending by improving the health, social, and educational outcomes of children in high-risk communities.
Liann Somerville started out as a postpartum bedside nurse before becoming the manager of the Nurse-Family Partnership in Boise. She heard about the program nearly a decade ago while doing an assignment for her community and public health class in nursing school.
“I watched a video of a nurse, ‘a day in the life’ or something. I honestly was glued to my screen, thinking this is the coolest job I have ever heard of, and I want to do this,” she said.
The idea of working as a family program nurse stayed with her long after she graduated.
“Having worked in postpartum, sending home these parents that … (you have a feeling) they are going to need so much more help, and you’re sending them home after that 24- or 48-hour stay,” Somerville said. “You’d even get parents joking, ‘Can I just take you home?’ Literally, with this program, you can. You can take a nurse home with you.”
She is the mother of three and remembers how hard it was to be a working mother when she graduated nursing school with two kids.
“It’s really important to me to help these moms and show them what they can accomplish — even as single mothers, young mothers, experiencing whatever adversity,” Somerville said. “I can’t even imagine how different my life would look if I hadn’t been able to go back to school and graduate with a degree in nursing. But I had a village, you know? I had a family that was able to help support me.”
Most of the 22 families enrolled in the program have limited financial resources. Others do not have stable housing or suffer from drug addiction that can make their pregnancies more difficult.
Shabire gave birth to her daughter Mina in February at a local hospital after being in labor for nearly two days.
“It was really hard, and I was scared, and I almost (gave) up. I was mad,” she said, but the hospital nurses told her not to give up. “You’re almost there!” they would say.
“And when they told me it’s time to push, I was like, ‘I am going to push you,’” she said of the support she received.
The new mom recently sat down with Heather, one of the program nurses, to talk about all kinds of issues, including everything from dietary guidelines to breastfeeding and health concerns. For Shabire, the experience gave her the confidence she needed to take care of her baby on her own. Her husband is still waiting to immigrate to the U.S., so she has had to go it alone. But Heather has been an invaluable resource.
“It’s a good program. Especially for moms, new mamas, and for those who are new in America — because when, maybe for you guys, you will have a lot of friends and know a lot of organizations and know where to go to ask for help,” Eliza said with her daughter in her arms.
“But for me, I just didn’t know where to go, or who to ask. But now I can say (to Heather), ‘Oh, do you know someone with food assistance?’ and then she will send me like 15” people to contact.”
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