- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 16, 2016

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - More of South Carolina’s poor mothers-to-be will get parenting help at home through a $30 million public-private partnership that aims to reduce pre-term births and child hospitalizations.

Republican Gov. Nikki Haley announced Tuesday the state’s collaboration with nonprofits, companies and private donors to increase those helped through the Nurse-Family Partnership, a Denver-based nonprofit that pairs registered nurses with first-time mothers on Medicaid.

The nurses make home visits - typically one or two monthly - from early in a mother’s pregnancy through the child’s second birthday.

Haley said the voluntary program aims to put babies and their mothers on a successful path, while reducing state costs and the problems that come with generational poverty, including domestic abuse.

“These new moms want to be the best moms they can be, but they need guidance,” she said.

More than 1,200 families in South Carolina now receive the one-on-one intervention. As of Dec. 31, nearly 3,700 moms had collectively received parenting assistance since the program began operating in the state in 2008.

Iantheya Brown, 26, of Columbia, says she’s a “super mom” to her 3-year-old son Jameer largely because of the support from her visiting nurse.

“I had fears of becoming a lost soul, a statistic, another young black woman lost in her pain and failed dreams,” she said. But through encouragement and goal-setting, she said, she instead earned a speech pathology degree and is pursuing her master’s. “Nurse Pam made me feel like I could do anything. Now I’m giving Jameer that same message.”

The state’s Medicaid agency hasn’t previously been involved with Nurse-Family Partnership. The announcement means 3,200 additional mothers will receive help over the next four years, said Christian Soura, director of the state Department of Health and Human Services.

The contract calls for his agency to pay $13 million - about 30 percent of that coming from state taxes - while donors are contributing $17 million, part of which will pay for the program’s evaluation. The largest donor, The Duke Endowment, has committed to paying $8 million of that. Four years from now, the state will pay Nurse-Family Partnership a bonus of up to $7.5 million. Whether state taxes pay that, zero or somewhere in between depends on the demonstrated savings, Soura said.

Reviews must show that most of the assisted families live in the state’s poorest communities, that there’s been a reduction in pre-term births and child hospitalizations for injuries, and that participating moms are waiting for a “healthy spacing” before their second child.

Roxane White, president and CEO of Nurse-Family Partnership, said the statewide “Pay for Success” initiative is a first for the nonprofit.

Haley said the program is part of her administration’s efforts in lifting up rural South Carolina. Democrats have been critical of the state’s dismal poverty rankings and Haley’s refusal to expand Medicaid to more poor adults as the federal health care law intended.

“It’s not about money, it’s about outcomes,” Haley said.

South Carolina ranks fifth-worst in child poverty, with 27 percent of all children - about 280,000 - living in families with incomes below the federal poverty level.

Medicaid, the government health care program for the poor and disabled, pays for more than half of all births in South Carolina and 85 percent of births to teen mothers, Soura said.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

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