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Healthy Moms & Babes celebrates 25th anniversary

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September 26, 2011

By Patricia McGeever

ARCHDIOCESE – Maxwell Murdock, 7, is a healthy, friendly and polite little boy. The Winton Hills Academy second grader has a bright smile, gets good grades and likes animals. His little sister LeAyeshia, 3, can spell her name and likes to sing. Twice a month, when the Healthy Moms & Babes van makes a visit to their neighborhood, the children look forward to stopping by with their mother to see the nurses and social workers who have nurtured them since before they were born.


While the children play with the toys in the van’s play area, mom LaToya Murdock checks in with the nurses who staff the van to make sure her children are developing on schedule. The staff is a sounding board and offers moral support to this single mother who says her children, “are my reason for living.”


Murdock became acquainted with Healthy Moms & Babes when she was pregnant with Maxwell.   


“They were a big help to me in understanding fetal growth, what to expect with labor and delivery and the different stages in their lives,” she said.


Healthy Moms & Babes is an outreach ministry celebrating 25 years of work. Its goal is to cut down on the high infant mortality rate in Cincinnati and Hamilton County. The Tri-State has an infant mortality rate that’s higher than the national average. Technology has improved the survival chances of a premature baby weighing as little and one pound. But, the overall health of the mother, her nutrition and the stress factors in her life all play a role in whether she’ll deliver a healthy baby. Healthy Moms & Babes targets those high risk, low-income women with little or no access to health care. By reaching these women early in their pregnancies, the staff can guide them to eat properly, arrange for medical care and help them make positive changes in their lifestyles that will help their babies survive and thrive. They do this by building relationships with their clients and gaining their trust.


“We are companions on their journey. Someone who gets beat down doesn’t need one more person beating on them. We walk along side them on the journey,” says Kathleen Brogle, the organization’s president and CEO.


Brogle estimates Healthy Moms & Babes has helped thousands of women. A small investment in their care pays big dividends. The odds increase that the women will deliver a healthy baby and instances of their babies being cared for in the NICU (neonatal intensive care unit) go down dramatically. Brogle says the cost of one day in a nursery is about $841. The cost of one day in a neo-natal care unit averages $5,000. The agency’s programs log roughly 3.000 client visits a year. Last year, Healthy Moms & Babes helped women deliver 183 babies. In keeping with Catholic teaching, it does not promote birth control.


The groundwork was laid for this nonprofit in 1984 by Dominican Sister Janice Bachman and Sister of Charity Glenda Reimer. One worked at Good Samaritan Hospital and the other at the former Sr. Francis-St. George Hospital and both felt the need to do something about the crisis situations they saw coming into the emergency rooms. They wanted to get outside of the facilities and into the communities. The Sisters obtained input from other religious orders as well as the archdiocese. As the organization began to take shape, those involved said there was so much need it would have to narrow its focus. Its first director, Sister of Mercy Pat Dowling, decided to concentrate on pregnant women and their babies. On Aug. 26, 1986 Healthy Moms & Babes was up and running.


The agency reaches the women by taking its 34-foot van into nine Greater Cincinnati communities, including one in Northern Kentucky. It is not a clinic.


“What we wanted is to go into a neighborhood, open doors and be a resource,” says Brogle.


The organization provides pregnancy tests, pre-natal care, nutrition and health education. The van stays parked from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. and, “anywhere from three  to 12 people stop by,” according to registered nurse Marlene Paulinelli. Sometimes there are 15-20 visitors. The average age of a client served is 28 and most are African American.


The ministry soon realized the women needed more than pre-natal care. They needed help once the baby was born, too. The outreach then extended into the first year of the baby’s life, making sure the child was properly immunized and cared for at home. It also helps the parents develop proper parenting skills in the child’s second year of life.


The work has expanded beyond the van and into the homes. Home Outreach Services are available to pregnant or postpartum women with a newborns who are having complications, facing a family crisis or have a lack of adequate social support or resources.
Several years ago, a second mobile unit was put on the street. But in August, the agency had to pull one van off the street because not enough people used it to justify the cost of staffing it.


All of this work is funded through grant money and from donations. About 10 percent of the operating budget comes from Good Samaritan Hospital and Mercy Health Partners.  Another half a million dollars comes from grants. In 2008 an anonymous Catholic donor gave the agency two cars that the social workers can use to make home visits and take clients to doctor and social service appointments.


Health educators like Veree Russell have formed ongoing relationships with clients. “It’s so nice to see him grow up,” she says of Maxwell. 


Murdock admits that without the steady presence of the Healthy Moms & Babes van in her neighborhood twice a month motherhood “would have been a lot harder. They’ve been a big help to me,” she said.


Healthy Moms & Babes will celebrate its 25-year milestone with a dinner dance and gala on Oct. 15 at the Embassy Suites River Center in Covington. The event runs from 6:30 p.m.-midnight. Local 12 anchor Kit Andrews will be the mistress of ceremonies and Auxiliary Bishop Joseph R. Binzer will give the invocation. Tickets are $100.00. For more information, visit http://healthymomsandbabes.org.  


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