BY SOPHIE KASAKOVE | Staff writer Aug 2, 2023
Families with newborns in New Orleans will have access to free at-home nurse visits beginning this fall, as the city works to address the persistent health challenges facing mothers and babies.
The program, a partnership between the city’s health department, Ochsner Baptist, and Touro Infirmary, will provide up to three in-home visits for infants born at the two hospitals. The check-ins will occur during the first 12 weeks of a baby’s life.
By working with the two Uptown hospitals, the program — called Family Connects New Orleans — will serve the majority of children born in the city. In 2020, 70% of infants were born at those facilities, according to the health department.
“Maternal and child health is one of the leading indicators of the overall health of a community,” Mayor LaToya Cantrell said in a statement. “In order for our city to thrive, we must continue to prioritize care and services for mothers and children. When they are safe, healthy, supported, and given proper resources to grow and learn, our communities succeed socially and economically.”
Before leaving the hospital, families will be scheduled for an initial home visit. Each visit will include health screenings for the mother and baby, as well as a family assessment for “environmental, behavioral, and social needs.”
The program will cost $1.5 million a year and is being paid for by the city with federal American Rescue Plan funds. It is currently slated to run for three years, but Mayor LaToya Cantrell said Wednesday that she hopes it will continue well beyond that.
New Orleans is one of about 40 cities nationwide to adopt the Family Connects model, pioneered by the nonprofit Family Connects International.
Maternal health challenges
Louisiana has long struggled with high rates of maternal and infant mortality and remains stuck near the top of nationwide rankings.
Touro Infirmary, for one, was highlighted in 2019 for its unusually high rates of severe childbirth complications, which USA Today found to be higher than any other New Orleans hospital. At the time, hospital officials said they objected to the article’s use of billing data to look at rates of complications and failed to account for different rates of health vulnerabilities of patients between hospitals.
Hospital representatives did not respond Wednesday to a request for comment.
Most pregnancy-associated deaths in the state occur in the first six weeks after birth and the majority are preventable, city health officials say.
A recent study found that accidental overdoses and heart conditions ranked near the top of the list for causes of death of pregnant women in Louisiana.
The infant mortality rate also exceeded the national average in New Orleans between 2017 and 2019, with significantly higher rates among Black babies, according to the Louisiana Perinatal Mortality Review Committee report.
Dr. Jennifer Avegno, the city’s health director, recently appeared on “60 Minutes” to discuss the additional challenges to maternal health posed by recently enacted abortion bans. The new restrictions have led some Louisiana health care providers to fear that treatments for problematic pregnancies or miscarriages could be viewed as providing illegal abortions.
The new program will give the city a way to connect families with other services, said Cantrell.
“It allows us to build trust, get into that home and also triage any other issues… that may be happening in the home,” she said.