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Encouraging New Moms to "Start Strong"

PHOTO: In the Medford area, lower-income new or expectant moms can earn vouchers for taking healthy steps for themselves and their babies. The vouchers can be redeemed for baby supplies. Photo courtesy of Jackson Care Connect.
PHOTO: In the Medford area, lower-income new or expectant moms can earn vouchers for taking healthy steps for themselves and their babies. The vouchers can be redeemed for baby supplies. Photo courtesy of Jackson Care Connect.
March 19, 2015

MEDFORD, Ore. - A Medford health plan is taking a unique approach to encourage new mothers to get their babies off to the best possible start and it's hoping the idea spreads to other parts of the state.

In Jackson County, Jackson Care Connect is rewarding its expectant members for taking healthy steps, whether it's getting to a medical or dental appointment, or attending birth or parenting classes. They earn vouchers that can be redeemed at a new store set up for the program, called "Starting Strong."

Program manager Heidi Hill says behind the fun shopping experience, there's a serious message.

"We know women who do not receive prenatal care are three times more likely to deliver a low birth-weight baby, and those babies are five times more likely to die," Hill says.

Jackson Care Connect sees low-income Oregon Health Plan members, and although their prenatal and well-child visits are covered, Hill says they don't always get the care. She says the Starting Strong store is filled with baby-care products. Vouchers can be spent on everyday items like diapers and baby clothes, or saved and combined for larger items such as car seats or highchairs.

Of the 2,300-plus babies born in Jackson County in one recent year (2013), the regional hospital reported 312 needed neonatal intensive care. Hill says that's an expensive and frightening ordeal for new parents when regular prenatal care could have made a difference.

"The real message is, when a healthy baby's born and that relationship is strong between the mother and the child, the community wins as well by having that healthy baby," says Hill. "And not having the costs associated with a poor birth outcome."

She adds for the community partners giving out the Starting Strong vouchers, it's another positive way to interact with young families and keep them coming back. A 2014 county health assessment pinpointed better birth outcomes and reducing substance abuse during pregnancy as two top priorities.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - OR