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$2 million grant expands Any Baby Can’s outreach to pregnant, new mothers

Nicole Villalpando
Any Baby Can nurse Renee Damron meets with Serenah Johnson and her daughter Seraiah Johnson-Joiner as part of the Nurse-Family Partnership in 2017. The program will be able to serve twice as many families and expand to Hays and Bastrop counties with a $2 million grant.

Austin’s Any Baby Can has secured a $2 million grant from United Health Foundation to expand its Nurse-Family Partnership program with the goal of reducing maternal and infant mortality in Texas.

The program pairs a high-risk, first-time pregnant mom with a nurse from the time the mom is in her 28th week of pregnancy to the when the baby turns 2.

The nurse visits regularly with the family and teaches mom skills, such as how to take her blood pressure regularly with a provided blood pressure cuff. Once the baby is born, the nurse encourages wellness checkups, looks for developmental progress and helps be a support for any questions mom might have.

The three-year grant will help Any Baby Can expand the program from serving 463 women in Travis and Williamson counties to serving 1,000 women and adding Hays and Bastrop counties to the service area.

“The $2 million really allows us to serve a population at risk for maternal issues,” says Veronda Durden, president and chief executive officer of Any Baby Can. Many of those it will serve will be women of color. Durden points to the maternal mortality rate of women in Texas, which is higher than the national average, and then to that of women of color, especially African American women, which is higher than white women.

In a 2018 study by the Texas Department of State Health Services, Black women in Texas had a pregnancy-related mortality rate that was 2.3 times higher than white women, and 80% of all pregnancy-related deaths in Texas could have been prevented.

“United Health Foundation is supporting these women to reverse that tragic outcome,” Durden says.

United Health Foundation found Any Baby Can’s Nurse-Family Partnership program through its website. It then invited the nonprofit organization to apply for a grant.

United Health Foundation is funded by the profits of both United Healthcare, its health care benefits business, and Optum, its health products and services company.

The news of maternal mortality and racial disparities “really motivated us as an organization,” says Dr. Janice Huckaby, chief medical officer of maternal-child health at Optum. “We saw opportunities through the business to engage in it in a more meaningful way.”

Any Baby Can’s program is unlike any other program United Health Foundation funds because it not only deals with high blood pressure, it also has the visiting nurse and mental health components to it, Huckaby says.

“We know that complications of hypertension is one of the top causes of maternal mortality,” Huckaby says. When it comes to mental health, “we know all too often those kinds of needs go unrecognized.”

United Health Foundation also liked that the Nurse-Family Partnership sends nurses into a family’s home (or right now by telehealth) where women are more comfortable. “We could ask questions all day in the office and never learn the answer,” Huckaby says.

United Health Foundation will be looking at the outcomes of the $2 million grant, including how many women sign up and complete the program, the number of low-birth-weight babies born, the number of children being immunized and getting regular well checks, and women being assessed for mental health needs and seeking treatment.