Where do you turn if you are pregnant with your first child and do not have the resources to receive healthcare, learn about caring for a child or find emotional encouragement? Twenty years ago, SoutheastHEALTH became part of a unique nurse home-visiting program aimed at reaching these mothers and children. Building Blocks is a federal, state and local grant-funded program that provides care and support for those who are pregnant with their first child and qualify for Medicaid and WIC.
Today, SoutheastHEALTH Building Blocks/Nurse-Family Partnership is part of a vibrant program that touches women and children in 44 states and six countries. “ Locally, we cover a service area of 11 counties from Ste. Genevieve county southward to the Arkansas border,” said Barb Gleason, Southeast’s Building Blocks nurse manager, “Our eight full-time nurses care for over 200 clients in our service area. We visit our clients two to four times per month from pregnancy through the child’s second birthday.”
It is what happens on these visits that makes the work so important to the health and well-being of both mother and child. “We take a holistic approach in our visits,” Barb explained. “We are there to care for and empower these women in any way we can. We provide resources and help with planning their future while trying to prevent these young families from continuing to live in a cycle of poverty, abuse and poor health.”
Building Blocks nurses are embedded in the communities in which they work. They have access and can refer their clients to local resources. “Many times, our clients just don’t know where to turn or what is available to them.” Said Nicki Kraust, SoutheastHEALTH’S Building Blocks Administrative Assistant. If they don’t have transportation, the local contacts become even more important. Often times, the nurses assist other family members in the home. “We can refer the grandmas, aunts or others living with our clients to appropriate health resources,” she added. Other new mothers may need help with depression issues or learning how to care and bond with their babies. We monitor the baby’s milestones and teach women how to care for their children.”
New mothers have come to rely on the expertise of the Building Block nurses as a source for information and support. The SoutheastHEALTH Building Blocks program has a 52% graduation rate, which means that the women and children stay active in the program two years after pregnancy. For the nursing staff, these graduates represent the program’s success.
“Our nurses work so many tough cases that they, too, require emotional support. Several of our nurses have worked in the Building Blocks program since its inception here at Southeast. Validating the work they do and providing them with the tools they need is a priority” said Vickie Schnurbusch, Administrator of Home Care Services at SoutheastHEALTH. “They see first-hand how difficult it is to go against the odds when you are a young mother. That’s why we all take such pride in the small steps each woman takes.”
As the Building Blocks team celebrates the 20-year mark, the team often reflects on the long-term positive effect of the services they provide. “We may not always see immediate success, but it is so encouraging to receive a call from a woman you mentored years ago and find out that she finished school, got a job, or her children are thriving. That means we have done our job,” smiled Barb.