MOMS offers poor pregnant women and their babies support and a healthier future

AHA News

Emily McClain knows what it is like to be pregnant and single with little income and few resources.

“I was a young, single mom, and didn’t have a lot of support,” she recalls.

But she found a helping hand from Spectrum Health’s Mothers Offering Mothers Support (MOMS) program. McClain credits the birth of her healthy daughter Alivia to the support she received from MOMS. She was introduced to a clinical case manager who encouraged McClain to plan for her future by setting short and long-term goals, including receiving proper prenatal care and breastfeeding her baby.

“It meant everything to me,” McClain says. “I’m an advocate for the program. Whenever I meet someone who is on Medicaid and is pregnant or has a baby, I tell them all about the help and support they can get from MOMS.”

McClain’s experience is typical of the thousands of young, mostly poor, disadvantaged mothers who have been helped through the years by MOMS, which Grand Rapids, MI-based Spectrum Health started in 1990. The program is designed to reduce infant mortality, illness and low birth weight, and deliver healthy full-term babies.

It matches young, pregnant women with a registered nurse, counselor, nutritionist and community health worker. All of the women enrolled in the program are Medicaid recipients. The Spectrum Health team works closely with them, making home visits and telephone calls throughout their pregnancy and their babies’ first year.

“We are trusted and have been able to build tremendous relationships within the community, and that has allowed us to make a difference in addressing these issues,” said Erin Inman, director of Spectrum Health’s “Healthier Communities” initiative.

MOMS is one of several Healthier Communities programs launched by Spectrum Health to improve the health of economically disadvantaged residents in the low-income neighborhoods it serves. Many of MOMS’ clients are poorly educated, victims of domestic violence or suffer from alcohol or drug abuse. MOMS helps them turn their lives around by “helping women make good choices for themselves and their families through encouragement, support and good information,” Inman said.

The community health workers are a big reason why the program is effective. They come from the same neighborhoods as the women who are enrolled in MOMS. Spectrum Health trains and certifies them as community outreach workers. “We provide the training and skills, but they go out there with a community savvy because many of them have been in similar circumstance and know what it’s like,” says Patty Carabellese, director of Spectrum Health’s community programs. “They help us bridge the gap between the clinicians and the community.”

Community health worker Alicia Young says “awareness is the key, getting the word out” about how poor pregnant women can navigate the health care system. She faced fear and uncertainty when she was pregnant at age 16. A public health nurse “gave me the tools to be successful,” she said. “She taught me how to believe in myself. Now I have a chance to give back.”

The bulk of MOMS’ financing comes from Spectrum Health, which dedicates $6 million every year to its Healthier Communities outreach. Carabellese says Spectrum Health has maintained its longstanding commitment to MOMS, because it is “focused on reducing infant mortality and this is one of the ways we can do it.”

Topic: Advocacy and Public Policy

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