Interior Health Authority works to see NFP continue

October 11, 2016

When Roger Parsonage watched a Kamloops Nurse-Family Partnership (NFP) graduation event for young mothers and their toddlers back in May, he was struck by what the ceremony represented.

Mothers and their children stood at the centre of the room. Nurses stood close by. And, in a semicircle at the back, stood everyone else from Interior Health.

“It struck me it was really representative of how [NFP] works,” said Parsonage, Director of Population Health for Interior Health. “You put the mom and baby at the centre, you have the nurses close by and then you have a larger team supporting them.”

Parsonage is new to child and maternal health, but he’s already a big believer in the NFP program. This landmark intensive home visiting program, which has been operating in the US for almost 40 years, sees public health nurses visiting young women who are pregnant and preparing to parent for the first time. Public health nurses provide the women with home visits and supports until the child’s second birthday.

Although the program is still undergoing its first Canadian scientific evaluation — via a randomized controlled trial, or RCT, through the BC Healthy Connections Project — Parsonage is already making plans for what to do when recruitment for the evaluation closes in December.

In short, he’s determined to see the program continue. “It’s really, really evident that this program leads to a very close bond between the moms and the nurses,” he says. “It opens a door to a level of support that we wouldn’t have otherwise.’’

But for Interior Health, the geographic distances involved remain an enormous challenge. “You really have to drive it to appreciate it, and realize just how far apart these communities are,” Parsonage says. “You go through huge pockets of ‘nothing’ but stunning beauty.” For the nurses, this means lots of driving time. And in turn, this means they have less time to spend with families. Making matters more challenging, socioeconomic status tends to be lower in rural and remote areas so the need for NFP is even higher.

The solution? Parsonage is investigating the possibility of using telehealth technology, meaning that some — but not all — of the visits would be via mobile video conferences. Replacing even a portion of the in-person visits with telehealth would make the system more efficient by reducing driving time for nurses. “We’re consulting with the Ministry about whether we can provide the service in this way without compromising fidelity,” he says. “If we can do that, it will allow us to extend the reach.” BC will consult with NFP’s founder, David Olds, regarding similar work occurring in the US.

Penny Liao-Lusssier, the Maternal Child Health Manager for Interior Health, is equally enthusiastic about NFP. “A highly vulnerable population is welcoming the nurses into their homes,” she says. “The fact that nurses are being invited really demonstrates the trust that is there.”

So far, 700 families have enrolled in the RCT through the BC Healthy Connections Project – with 350 receiving NFP plus existing services, and 350 receiving existing services alone. Sixty families have now completed the study. An additional 300 families have received NFP through the “guiding client” pilot, which involved nurses honing their NFP skills before starting the trial. And a further 150 families are receiving NFP through a Process Evaluation that is running in parallel with the RCT.

The BC Healthy Connections Project is investigating how NFP works in BC – following study participants through into 2019. Meanwhile Health Authorities are beginning to deliver NFP to all qualified families, outside of the study, starting in December. Practitioners or young pregnant women can click here for more information.