Jessie & Autumn McNeely

Jessie McNeely and her daughter, Autumn Girten, play on the playground at Long Family Memorial Park. McNeely recently graduated from the Nurse-Family Partnership program, which she said helped her to get her life back on track by helping her to learn how to care for her baby and also how to set goals and achieve them to care for herself and her family over her lifetime.

The Nurse-Family Partnership is a proven program with a 40-year old track record on the Front Range and 10 years here in Mesa County. It’s an exception to the old adage that says, “If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.” Not only is the program life-changing for the mothers and their babies who are enrolled in it, it’s incredibly rewarding and challenging  for the nurses who provide care, and it’s free for any mother who meets income eligibility requirements.

The program pairs first-time expectant moms with a personal nurse who makes home visits. During COVID, nurses used telehealth and smart phones to connect, but thanks to vaccines, they’re back in the homes of the women in the program.

What makes the program remarkable is the emphasis on the relationship between the nurse and her clients. Typically, nurses in the program have about 25 clients, and they try to visit each one every two weeks.

“My nurse came to my home and made me feel comfortable about breastfeeding,” said Jessie McNeely, whose started with the program two weeks before her now-toddler daughter, Autumn Girten, was born. “She was always there for any questions. I could text or call.”

McNeely was able to enjoy about a year of in-person visits before COVID put a temporary hold on those. Through the program, she was able to get an iPhone 7 free of charge so she could continue with tele-health calls, texts and assistance.

“She (her home health nurse) made sure I stayed on track,” McNeely said. “I learned a lot of patience, how to deal with a two-year old, how to use positive enforcement and how to give choices. She helped with meal structure and knowing how much to feed.”

In addition to the positive impact on mom and baby’s overall health, the program also helps moms learn about setting goals, accomplishing tasks and envisioning where they want their life to be.

In McNeely’s case, with the encouragement of her nurse, McNeely was able to get her social security card, get a state I.D., complete her GED and get her driver’s license. She’s now enrolled at Colorado Mesa University for the fall semester.

“It’s like my whole life got on track after I had my daughter,” McNeely said.

Because the program has been in existence for decades, researchers have been able to confirm the benefits of the program, and they’re not just anecdotal stories. Results for families who have participated in the program include a 48% reduction in child abuse and neglect, a 56% reduction in ER visits for accidents and poisonings, a 50% reduction in language delays of children at age 21 months, 67% less behavioral/intellectual problems for children at age 6, and an 82% increase in the months employed for moms, among other measurable benefits.

“I’ve never been involved in any other type of program where the relationship supersedes everything else,” said Erin Andrews, supervisor for the Nurse-Family Partnership program at Mesa County Public Health.

Those who enter the nursing field generally don’t do so in order to fill out paperwork, but many nursing positions involve copious amounts of paperwork, with an emphasis on filling it out accurately. Not so for home health nurses who have an opportunity to make lasting impacts on the lives of their clients. Paperwork is never the priority, the relationship with the client is paramount.

“It’s very difficult job to understand until you do it or see several visits,” Andrews said. “It’s not a typical nursing job; you have to be comfortable with the social aspect of it.”

Home health nurses also have to be able to walk the fine line between developing an honest, supportive relationship that feels very personal and caring, while maintaining a professional attitude.

“Having that guidance from someone who cared so much about myself and my son was incredible,” said Juliana Liddle, who is also a recent graduate of the program.

According to Andrews, the best outcomes for moms and babies typically happen when moms enroll when they first find out they’re pregnant. It’s not a requirement, however, and first-time moms can join the program anytime during their pregnancy and up until their child is 30 days old. They graduate from the program when their child turns two.

“Typically, we’re involved for two and a half years,” Andrews said. “It’s a wonderful time to provide support and get to know them, their families and their goals.”

There is a bilingual nurse in the program to help those who don’t speak English as a first language to make sure that the mother’s needs and wants are communicated with other health care providers.

The program has the capacity to accept more women and their babies, and anyone earning up to 200% of the poverty level is eligible. To learn more about the program, including how to enroll or how to refer someone else to the program, visit the Mesa County Public Health website at https://health.mesacounty.us/nurse-family-partnership/ or call or text 970-260-2356.