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WVU expands service area to help pregnant women, parenting families | WVU Today

WVU expands service area to help pregnant women, parenting families |  WVU Today

In partnership with local organizations, the WVU-led West Virginia Healthy Start/Helping Appalachian Parents and Infants project will expand its reach to 11 counties. The program serves communities with high infant mortality rates.
(WVU Photo)

A West Virginia UniversityThe lead effort is expanding its reach to 11 counties in the Mountain State, giving more low-income pregnant women and families with children access to health care and life skills through West Virginia Healthy Start/Helping Appalachian Parents and Children — HAPI — project.

In partnership with local organizations, the program serves communities with infant mortality rates at least 1.5 times the US national average and high rates of other adverse maternal and child outcomes. The goal is to change these numbers by reducing the incidence of premature labor and low birth rates and improving the overall health of mothers and families.

The HAPI project is managed by WVU School of Medicine Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Sciences and WVU Office of Research. A recent grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services will continue funding with $1.1 million annually over the next five years for assistance in Barbour, Harrison, Marion, Monongalia, Preston, Randolph and Upshur counties, while adding Doddridge , Hardy, Marshall and Wetzel counties.

For more than two decades, the program has partnered with community agencies and organizations to provide maternity services and a wealth of resources, from healthy solutions and preventive care to parenting education, career planning and personal relationship goals.

More than 800 West Virginia women or families participate each year. Once the baby is born, HAPI continues with 18 months of support for the mother, father, newborn and siblings.

“We are excited to have the opportunity to continue serving the families of West Virginia,” Penny Womeldorff, director of the West Virginia Healthy Start/HAPI Project.

“We have spent 23 years building a network of providers and partners to meet the needs of pregnant and parenting families, and now we will be able to continue to expand our reach to other counties that need us. We want to continue to grow and serve the needs of our families in West Virginia and contribute to the health and well-being of West Virginia in general.”

HAPI works hand-in-hand with Right From The Start, a state program that provides case management and home visiting services for pregnant women, postpartum women, and infants up to 1 year old who have Medicaid, CHIP, or services coverage. maternity and extend these offers. .

“We’re partnering with them to provide a much more comprehensive package of services for the families we serve,” Womeldorff said. “We use the same staff of nurses and social workers who provide both programs in our region. It’s a lot of case management and education focused on healthy behaviors during pregnancy. We look at things like perinatal mood disorders and postpartum depression, anxiety and smoking cessation.”

For mothers who would like to try breastfeeding, HAPI offers education and counseling with certified lactation counselors. Womeldorff said this aspect of the program has demonstrated success by increasing breastfeeding initiation rates from 59.7 percent in 2017 to 76.6 percent in 2022.

In partnership with the WVU School of Dentistry, the program also emphasizes oral health care by encouraging mothers, fathers and their children to visit a dentist. After a check-up, each family member receives a Sonicare toothbrush.

“We provide education about the impact of poor oral health and pregnancy because there is an association between periodontal infection and low birth rate and preterm birth,” Womeldorff said. “We’re trying to improve birth outcomes by keeping everyone’s mouths healthy.”

A Paternity Coordinator is also available to provide guidance on parental involvement and employment and relationship goals.

The program’s successes are not only measured in terms of health and parenting outcomes, but also in the impact it has had on clients’ outlook on helping others.

“Over the years, we’ve had a few clients come back and work with us as outreach workers and then go back to school to finish their studies,” Womeldorff said. “One is now a labor and delivery nurse and another works for a state health program. Others have returned to volunteer or participate in community events.”

Dr. Rawan El-Amin, HAPI’s principal investigator, gained insight into the program while completing his internship for a master’s in public health at WVU before completing his medical training.

“HAPI is a great bridge between medical and social/community services,” said El-Amin. “This funding is essential to continue our efforts to raise awareness and coordinate treatment for important conditions in pregnancy and the postpartum period. We are grateful for the opportunity to continue to care for our families in West Virginia.”

Currently, Sadie Lobdell of Townsend, Delaware, a student in the master’s program in social work, and Courtney Dillow of Mechanicsville, Virginia, a senior pursuing a bachelor’s degree in social work, are completing their internships as designated care coordinators and plans to continue working with the HAPI Project during and after school.

To raise awareness about prenatal and early childhood health, HAPI also hosts several community events. The largest, “Baby and Me Day,” is held each year at Meadowbrook Mall in Bridgeport and features vendor booths from WVU Medicine and various state agencies.

“It’s an opportunity for people to learn about pregnancy and education and fill out a referral for our program,” Womeldorff said. “Our aim is to support our families and help ensure they have everything they need during pregnancy by nurturing parents early and helping them get from step A to step C or D, whatever it is for They.”

The WV Healthy Start/HAPI Project is funded by the Health Resources and Services Administration, Office of Maternal and Child Health Division of Healthy Start and Perinatal Services and is integrated with the state-supported program, Right From The Start.



MEDIA CONTACT: Linda Skidmore
Health Research Writer
WVU Research Communications
[email protected]

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