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County receives funding to combat high-risk pregnancies

This is a good news-bad news kind of story.

The bad news first:

Mower County was identified by the Minnesota Department of Health as one of its top counties in terms of high-risk pregnancies.

"We have a high rate of low birth-weight, a higher-than-average child poverty rate, a higher-than-average high school dropout rate and a high teen birth and pregnancy rate," said Lisa Kocer, interim director of Mower County Public Health.

Now the good news:

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The county was awarded a $100,000 grant for three years, designed to fund training for more intensive home visits to families who are seeing those risks. Mower County Board members approved the grant agreement Tuesday.

"Unfortunately, we were one of the top seven," Kocer said of the MDH study, "but at least now there are resources to put toward it."

It will change the way local public health workers do home visits, she said.

"We have a universal (system) now, generally with one post-partum visit per mom," Kocer said, "but we're able to serve a lot of people. With this new model, we're looking at maybe 20 families in the first year, because we're talking about weekly visits."

While the department still will try to see most first-time moms, it's about assessing the population and finding where the higher need is, Kocer said. Referrals may come from human services, the hospital, the clinic, potentially even from the schools.

"The curriculum we're going to use isn't restrictive," Kocer said. "We can see a mom who's at risk even with a second pregnancy if we feel she meets the parameters. We've really not ever had the opportunity to target high-risk moms this intensively before because of the (lack of) funding."

The grant will go toward training three current staffers; no employees will be added. Instead, the nurses will undergo increased training to have more tools to use with the families.

"The whole thing is prevention," Kocer said, "so we're trying to get to families as early as possible. It starts with mom's health, then baby's health and what mom needs to do to assure baby's healthy."

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Factors that may indicate a high-risk pregnancy are young moms — teens to early 20s with not a lot of social support; low income; history of domestic violence or potential of abuse/neglect; and substance abuse.

"Those are also the risk factors that made Mower County stand out," Kocer said. It's the only southeastern Minnesota county to receive the grant.

The nurses will be required to collect data to track results; positive outcomes could be helpful in securing grants in the future.

Kocer said she and the rest of her "very dedicated" staff are more than ready to begin.

"They've seen the need," she said. "Ultimately, the goal is to have healthy birth outcomes, have kids grow and be healthy and adequately nourished and adequately loved, get into the school system in a timely manner, and prevent child abuse and neglect.

"I hope we can make everybody proud."

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