Prenatal Public Health seeks referrals

November 3, 2014

Nurse-Family PartnershipThere are 300 family doctors in Vancouver but no one knows exactly how many of them provide maternity care. There’s no list, no registry. At best, policy-makers can determine how many doctors deliver babies based on who has hospital privileges.

“But there’s a lot more maternity care providers than those who actually deliver babies,” says Joanne Wooldridge. “The challenge for us in Vancouver is the sheer number.”

As Regional Leader for Early Childhood Development, Wooldridge is helping spearhead recruitment for the BC Healthy Connections Project (BCHCP) in Vancouver Coastal Health. This means finding and connecting with doctors, midwives and nurse practitioners, and persuading them of the value of the project aimed at evaluating the effectiveness of the Nurse-Family Partnership (NFP).

NFP is an intensive maternal and child health program that provides disadvantaged young women — who are preparing to parent for the first time — with one-on-one home visits with public health nurses throughout pregnancy, continuing until children reach their second birthday. According to studies in the US, this sort of partnership empowers mothers to create better lives for their children and themselves. (The BCHCP will determine whether this is also true for BC mothers and children.)

Finding the primary care practitioners who can refer young women isn’t always easy but it’s smoother now the BC government is asking all primary caregivers to refer pregnant women to public health as soon as possible. Furthermore, it’s really easy to refer.

Once Wooldridge and her team identify and speak with a practitioner, they know the pitch they want to make. “In terms of the young women, particularly the ones 19 and younger, they’re going to receive support from public health to improve their life conditions,” Wooldridge says. “A strong connection can be a stabilizing influence for them.”

Housing is another issue. In Vancouver in particular, finding a place to live is so expensive that a large number of young people — especially those on low income — may not have a home. “They’re not homeless,” Wooldridge says. “But they’re effectively couch-surfing and this makes them especially vulnerable.” Public health nurses can help identify housing options and sort out better life opportunities for them.

Increasingly, midwives are also becoming an important group to reach. Some 20 percent of deliveries in Vancouver are managed by midwives. And while two decades ago their clientele might have been largely middle-class women, today they’re serving a different demographic. “Midwives tend to have a reasonable proportion of high-risk clients,” Wooldridge says, “and they often attract people who are not particularly trusting of the healthcare system.”

The good news, according to Wooldridge, is that her team sees “almost all women when they deliver,” in order to provide post-natal care. This allows them to follow up and figure out why women might not have been referred to public health. Most often, she says, it’s a result of someone going to the doctor or midwife too late. “If they were eligible for the BCHCP, we loop back to that physician or midwife and let them know that.”

As well, the Vancouver Coastal Health team makes a point of going back to practitioners who make public health referrals, thanking them and letting them know how the process has worked. “They’ve told us that over and over again that that feedback is critical,” Wooldridge says. “They will remember to refer [again] if they see the benefit in their own patients.”

Note that NFP is available only through the BC Healthy Connections Project for the duration of recruitment. Practitioners or young pregnant women can click here for details on how to reach public health and determine eligibility for the BCHCP.