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Working on Better Beginnings for Chatham Co. Families

April 21, 2014

When LaVerne Brown attended a community baby shower in Savannah in 2013, she was hoping to learn as much as she could about becoming a mother. She hadn’t heard of the Savannah Perinatal Initiative, but that changed when she met Outreach Educator Ekta Patel from the Coastal Health District.

Savannah Perinatal Initiative Outreach Educator, Ekta Patel visits with LaVerne Brown and baby Zoey

Brown was 38 years old and pregnant for the first time, and Patel explained that those factors meant hers was considered a high-risk pregnancy. She also said that’s exactly why Brown was a perfect candidate to take part in the Initiative.

Brown signed up for the program, and on Nov. 12, 2013, she gave birth to a healthy baby girl, Zoey. One week later, Patel and Christine High, a perinatal nurse for the Coastal Health District, were in Brown’s home to check on her well-being and that of her baby. As part of the initiative, the Brown family will receive a home visit at least once a month until Zoey’s first birthday. Patel and High will check on Zoey’s developmental progress and answer any questions from Brown.

 “They’ve given me a lot of information on dos and don’ts that I really just didn’t know,” said Brown. “I was having problems with pumping breast milk early on, and they really helped me with that.”

The Savannah Perinatal Initiative began in 2012 to address high infant mortality rates in Chatham County. The program started with one patient and now has 21 active participants with more being recruited every day.

“We want to ensure that we have healthier moms and babies in Chatham County,” said Cindy Hendry, perinatal and children’s special services coordinator for the Coastal Health District.

The program uses Partners for a Healthy Baby, an evidence-based home visiting curriculum, to guide its work with new mothers in the program. The curriculum’s principles work to improve birth outcomes, reduce rates of child abuse, strengthen families, enhance child health and developmental outcomes and promote family stability and economic self-sufficiency.

The close bonds that are formed between the Savannah Perinatal Initiative team and the families they serve go a long way toward making the program successful.

“The relationships that grow out of the nurse and patient bond are further strengthened by the regular visits to the patients’ homes, getting to know the family, the spouse and other children, and the awareness that the nurse develops by observation, active listening and mentoring these mothers,” said Hendry.

In the case of LaVerne and Zoey Brown, those relationships have had a major impact. 

“Ekta and Christine are the nicest people and they always listen to me and never downplay my concerns,” Brown said. “I enjoy their company and the information they give me keeps me from having to call the doctor all the time.”

Hendry said she would like to see the program expand, and that with adequate staffing levels, the initiative would do well in other counties in the district.

“Pregnant women throughout our district could potentially benefit from a public health home visiting nurse or health educator providing pertinent education, assisting with social concerns, providing appropriate referrals and increasing awareness before the newborn arrives,” she said. “These actions are all part of improving our community and providing positive choices for pregnant women in our area.”

“Anybody who can get into this program should,” Brown said. “It eases your mind knowing that somebody is there to help.”

“Anybody who can get into this program should,” Brown said. “It eases your mind knowing that somebody is there to help.”

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