Friday, January 27, 2023

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Long-Running AZ Program Gives New Parents, Kids a Healthy Start

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Wednesday, April 27, 2022   

A statewide program has worked for four decades to help thousands of Arizonans have healthy pregnancies and a better child-rearing experience.

Health Start assists people living in challenging situations during pregnancy, and into their child's first two years of life. Sara Ruhmann, pregnancy wellness manager with the Arizona Department of Health Service, said the program uses community health workers to provide education, support and advocacy services to pregnant and postpartum people and their families in targeted communities.

"Motherhood, and having new children, in the household is such a stressful time," she said. "Moms of any age, of any income bracket, could benefit by having an advocate that provides nonjudgmental education and interventions."

Ruhmann said the program is limited to 2,800 clients at any given time, with new slots opening when a child turns two. The program, considered one of the best of its kind in the country, is managed by ADHS and administered by county health clinics.

Ruhmann said it's important that the community health workers live in and reflect the ethnic, cultural and socioeconomic characteristics of the places they serve. Families receive regular home visits and case management with oversight by nurses and social workers.

"We connect them to many different services, Women/Infants/Children, the nutrition program," she said. "We want to increase the number of kids receiving age-appropriate immunizations, and increase awareness by educating families on importance of good nutritional habits."

Ruhmann said she believes the program is at its best when it is able to help a young parent get through a difficult time in raising their child.

"One of our community health workers helped a mom who was going to give up breastfeeding," she said. "Most of our sites have at least one worker that's trained as a breastfeeding/lactation educator. They help that mom to stay breastfeeding and not give that completely up."

Health Start began with private funding in the 1980s and became a state program in the mid-1990s. It currently is funded by dedicated revenue from proceeds of the Arizona Lottery.


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