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Providing Fragile Lives a Healthy Start

Providing Fragile Lives a Healthy Start

While preparing to welcome a new baby to the family is typically a time of wonder and joy, an expectant mother’s rollercoaster of anticipation and nervousness is also accompanied by understandable stress and anxiety over her unborn child’s health, medical costs and the ongoing care needed as her newborn wobbles to his feet as a toddler. These concerns loom even larger for low-income women with no health insurance and a lack of access to prenatal care and pediatric resources after their babies are born.

Guided by their commitment to give every baby a healthy start in life, the Healthy Start Coalition of Southwest Florida provides uninsured pregnant women in Hendry and Glades counties a pathway to such essential services, beginning with prenatal care and extending until the baby reaches three years of age.

Susan Beauvois, the nonprofit organization’s executive director, points out the acute need for such services in Southwest Florida’s inland counties. “In Hendry and Glades, there is not a single obstetrician, nor is there a delivery hospital.”

To meet this challenge for the women and families they serve, Healthy Start supports services at two inland medical facilities, one in Labelle and the other in Clewiston, through partnerships with Lee Health and a private-practice obstetrician.

“Those two medical offices together provide prenatal care to just over 600 pregnant women each year who live in the counties, and approximately 40% of those do not have any insurance,” Ms. Beauvois says of the roughly 240 women who otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford the care they and their babies need.

While the alarm surrounding the global pandemic has affected virtually every aspect of life in Southwest Florida, those worries are heightened among pregnant women because COVID-19’s impact on pregnancy is not yet fully understood.

“The news that’s coming out about its effect on pregnancy is still evolving, and so there’s a great deal of uncertainty,” she points out. “On top of that, it’s been very difficult because a few months ago these families may have been in a very different place financially, but now we have  parents who’ve been out of work, and their baby is coming.”

The challenges for pregnant women in the region’s inland counties begins with inadequate, or in some cases nonexistent, transportation to healthcare facilities located in neighboring counties. Establishing care in LaBelle and Clewiston was a matter of tackling the obstacle head-on: if the women can’t get to the services, then bring the services to them. It’s an effort that extends directly to the women’s homes.

“Home visiting is our primary service for pregnant women and women who have infants up to the age of three,” Ms. Beauvois says. “We work hand-in-hand with the prenatal medical providers.” Additionally, Healthy Start screens for perinatal depression to monitor new mothers’ mental well-being, and the organization also checks on infants’ developmental milestones, with support to address issues should they arise.

Adjusting to the impact of COVID-19 compelled the nonprofit to increase its efforts to provide basic necessities, delivering such everyday must-haves as baby formula, diapers, wipes and portable Pack’n’Plays to provide infants a safe sleeping environment. Normally, Healthy Start supplies about 100 Pack’n’Plays for an entire year; however, they’ve provided nearly that amount in less than 90 days.

Adhering to public health guidelines, the organization’s staff members deliver items to the new mothers’ doors and get a chance to see and sometimes briefly chat with the families they serve, even if it is from a safe distance. Ms. Beauvois says it means the world. “As little as that seems to be, that human connection is so important right now.”

Delivering vital prenatal care and extending ongoing support to vulnerable moms and their children during these turbulent times has meant devising creative ways to overcome unprecedented challenges. And Ms. Beauvois says knowing the Community Foundation of Southwest Florida is walking this difficult path with Healthy Start has taken on added meaning.

“The Foundation has been our savior with prenatal healthcare in Hendry and Glades,” she says. “The grant they provide is a key reason we can deliver the type of family support we are able to. But it’s not just the funding – it’s knowing I can call them any time as a great sounding board for ideas. They’ve worked very hard to keep their nonprofit partners informed and unified throughout all of this.”

The pandemic may have ushered in rocky times for Southwest Florida, but by providing access to quality prenatal care and ongoing support for low-income children and their families, Healthy Start has not wavered from living up to its namesake in service to the region’s newest and most fragile lives. For more information, please visit http://healthystartbaby.org/. Or call, (239) 425-6920.

This article is part of a summer series that highlights the vital work of regional recipients of 2020 Community Impact Grants from the Southwest Florida Community Foundation.

 

About the Southwest Florida Community Foundation

The Southwest Florida Community Foundation, founded in 1976, cultivates regional change for the common good through collective leadership, social innovation and philanthropy to address the evolving community needs in Lee, Collier, Charlotte, Hendry and Glades counties. The Foundation partners with individuals, families and corporations who have created more than 400 philanthropic funds. Thanks to them, the Foundation invested $7.7 million in grants and programs to the community. With assets of $134.9 million, it has provided $85 million in grants and scholarships to the communities it serves since inception. The Foundation is the backbone organization for the regional FutureMakers Coalition and Lee County’s Sustainability Plan. The Southwest Florida Community Foundation’s regional headquarters are now located in the historic ACL Train Depot at Collaboratory in downtown Fort Myers, with a satellite office located in LaBelle (Hendry County). For more information, call 239-274-5900 or visit www.floridacommunity.com

 

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Amy Guzman