Nurses and moms ask lawmakers to boost funding for at-home care programs

    Community health nurse Cheryl Spicer (L) visited new mom Allison Pierre (R) at her home every week for two years through the Nurse-Family Partnership program.

    This article has been updated to include the name of the Childhood Begins at Home Coalition, and to remove a reference to UPMC Pinnacle, which employs community health nurses who participate in the Nurse-Family Partnership program, but does enroll clients.

    Not long after Gov. Tom Wolf unveils his first draft of Pennsylvania’s budget in February, groups from across the state start to descend on the state Capitol to ask for a bigger share of spending.

    A group of nurses and families joined their ranks Tuesday, flooding the Capitol to ask lawmakers to grant an additional $5 million to at-home care programs like the Nurse-Family Partnership, a national non-profit organization that currently has a $13.1 million appropriation in Pennsylvania’s budget.

    The Childhood Begins at Home Coalition, which represents at-home caregivers, says additional funding for such programs would let 800 new families receive at-home care. Many of the beneficiaries would be low-income pregnant women and new mothers.

    Allison Pierre, a 24-year-old mother from Mechanicsburg, Cumberland County, was 19 years old and 26 weeks pregnant when she enrolled in a Nurse-Family Partnership program.

    The program pays for a registered nurse to make regular at-home visits to new and expectant mothers for two years, with the goal of increasing children’s intellectual and physical development and helping women find stability as new moms.

    On Tuesday, Pierre said she didn’t have much family support when she learned she was pregnant. She thinks more women should benefit from the program that changed her life when she was a new mother.

    “I knew I needed a little bit of guidance and support,” Pierre said Tuesday. “I knew I needed to do more with my life to better my future for me as well as my daughter.”

    Cheryl Spicer, who was Pierre’s at-home care nurse for two years, said that the program equips new mothers with parenting skills, like breastfeeding and child nutrition advice, as well as financial literacy skills.

    But Pierre said that her relationship with Spicer became a valuable source of mentorship.

    She says Spicer’s help during the week allowed her to focus on schoolwork and get on a path to graduate. It also helped her think about “big picture” goals, Pierre said.

    “It helped me think about what else I was going to do besides be a mom,” Pierre said. “I knew I had to graduate, get on the right track, and better my future so I could become economically stable.”

    Pierre now works as a nursing aide, and she’s set to start nursing school in the fall — around the same time that her four-year-old daughter, Oakley, will begin kindergarten.

    She hopes to one day become a registered nurse and work as a community health nurse like Spicer, so she, too, can help new moms adjust to motherhood.

    “We know that there are more moms and babies throughout the state that would benefit from having access to this program,” said Jessica Lipper, the Nurse-Family Partnership’s government affairs manager. “There’s an opportunity with that increased funding to be able to serve more moms and babies.”

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