A Community Coalition Offering a Healthy Start
By Kristy Goldwire, MSW
Capital Area Healthy Start
Merriam-Webster defines a coalition as “a group of people… who have joined together for a common purpose.” The purpose that drives Capital Area Healthy Start Coalition (CAHSC) and its partners is a desire to see the eradication of infant mortality; fewer low birth-weight babies and more women preparing for, and having healthy full-term pregnancies.
This purpose served as the foundation for the 1991 law, passed by Governor Lawton Chiles and the Florida Legislature to create Healthy Start coalitions around the state.
Birthed out of concern for the state’s alarmingly high infant mortality rates of the late 80s and early 90s, these coalitions are charged with addressing infant deaths and the related causes. CAHSC was officially born on February 6, 1992 with the privilege of working with women and babies residing in Leon and Wakulla counties.
Providing Quality Educational Services
Healthy Start is an education-based program designed to provide valuable information and support services to all pregnant women and their children up until the child’s third birthday.
The Healthy Start program services are provided directly through the health departments in Leon and Wakulla. Pregnant and postpartum women can get breastfeeding education, parenting education, help to quit smoking, emotional support, nutritional counseling, information on child birth preparation, and baby care education. The persons leading the program are all bachelor’s and master’s degree-level care coordinators with backgrounds in nursing, psychology, social work, human services and education.
Additionally, these certified care coordinators use evidence and research-based curriculums to ensure participants get the best available service.
Through the Coalition itself, we offer preconception health for women and their partners to get the education needed before they become pregnant. This early preparation can drastically improve a woman’s pregnancy and birth outcomes. Additionally, the Coalition has a MomCare Advisor who works with pregnant women who have Medicaid-based insurance. This advisor provides information about Medicaid health plans, helps pregnant women find a prenatal care provider, and encourages the identification of a pediatrician or family practice doctor to care for their newborn.
But, the best part about Healthy Start is that it is open and available to all women still in their reproductive years, which is generally considered ages 15 to 44.
No Qualifications Necessary
Although created through legislation, Healthy Start is not a “government” program only for those who “qualify.” This is a misconception that causes some women to miss an opportunity to receive quality pregnancy and child-related services—at no cost.
There are no qualifications needed to receive education and support about a healthy pregnancy. A woman who is thinking about getting pregnant in the near or distant future “qualifies.” A woman who is pregnant “qualifies.” A woman who just had a baby “qualifies.” Plainly put, we are a women and child-focused agency with an ultimate vision of ending infant mortality and increasing the number of healthy pregnancies and births. And we have seen some success in doing so.
A Community Effort
Since the 21st century began, nearly 30,000 women have taken advantage of Healthy Start. The number of women served, and the reduction of infant mortality over the years, is a testament to the quality of and need for our program.
And while we cannot take full credit for the decrease in infant deaths, it is fair to say the Coalition and its community partners have played a significant role in getting those numbers down. The support and advocacy from the Florida Department of Health, local county health departments, prenatal and pediatric healthcare providers, board members, donors, maternal and child health advocates and other concerned parties has been invaluable to the work we do in Leon and Wakulla.
It is this kind of community effort that makes a difference in the lives of so many women and babies. And it will take the continued commitment of “a group of people who have joined together for a common purpose” to keep more babies healthy and alive.