March 28, 2003

Nurses for Newborns program receives federal funding

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Barbara Stewart, a nurse with the Nurses for Newborns program, examines baby Keshawn Vaughn during a home visit. In the background, Sophie Vaughn shows some of the donated clothes to a neighbor. (photo by Dana Johnson)

Nurses for Newborns program receives federal funding

The Vanderbilt-supported local Nurses for Newborns program is celebrating recent funding appropriations from Congress totaling $250,000.

Nurses for Newborns is a national home visit agency aimed at educating at-risk families to help prevent infant mortality, child abuse and neglect. The home-based programs teach positive parenting skills and offer support to the newborns in need.

The agency often serves teen moms, moms that are mentally or physically challenged, sick infants, and other families with general needs. In addition to the direct support the agency provides, the programs also help families connect with additional medical, social or government services, and maintain a donation bank with clothes, toys, diapers, blankets, car seats, baby beds and formula for families.

Dr. Patricia Temple, professor of Pediatrics and newly appointed co-director of the local Nurses for Newborns program, says she was approached by Kim Miller, director of the local program, to have Vanderbilt work together in a more defined role than in the past, and apply for the federal funding backed by U.S. Congressman Jim Cooper.

Temple says she learned that they had been awarded the funding from Congress last month. “This is a wonderful validation of what we’ve believed in. I was worried about how to keep the program sustainable, and having Rep. Cooper say this is a valuable program means a lot to Tennessee. It was a shot in the arm,” she said.

Temple says it wouldn’t have been possible for Nurses for Newborns to receive the recognition if not for the work of Cooper. “I give him so much credit for identifying programs that really make a difference in infants’ lives, mothers’ lives, and families’ lives, both in the newborn period and long term.”

Cooper says Miller’s dedication to the cause, and a personal incident following the birth of one of his three children, inspired him to support the program and coordinate the appropriations process. “My second child had a reaction to sulfa medications at Georgetown Hospital, and it was a close call. It makes you very sensitive to the health needs of children,” he said.

Miller brought the program to Tennessee when her husband, Tennessee Titans offensive tackle Fred Miller, left the St. Louis Rams. Nurses for Newborns is founded and headquartered in St. Louis. The Millers donated $800,000 of their own money to create the program locally, as well as Kim’s time as director, without pay.

Miller says the funding from Congress secures the future of Nurses for Newborns. “We are thrilled. We knew Nurses for Newborns was an amazing program, that’s why we brought it to Tennessee in the first place. But to get this support from the federal government reiterates how important it is for Middle Tennessee,” said Miller.

She says the funding will support the need to expand the program to other parts of the state. “We’re growing at a rate of 30 percent to 50 percent a month in the 19 counties we serve in Middle Tennessee. We see a need to grow even further.”

Dr. Arnold Strauss, James C. Overall Professor and Chair of Pediatrics, who was in St. Louis before coming to Vanderbilt, and is a supporter of Nurses for Newborns, says some areas of Middle Tennessee are particularly vulnerable and in need of services.

“In Clarksville, for instance, statistics show a surprisingly high incidence of abuse in military families. During this time of tremendous stress, expanding services to those areas is particularly important,” Strauss said.

Temple says their statistics show Montgomery County has almost twice the incidence of child abuse as other counties in Tennessee.

Miller says expanding Nurses for Newborns in Tennessee would not have been possible without the collaborative efforts early on of so many people at Vanderbilt, including Colleen Conway-Welch, Ph.D., dean of the Vanderbilt School of Nursing. Conway-Welch currently serves as a board member. “She was on our board even before there really was a Nurses for Newborns here in Nashville. She has been a great advocate for us,” said Miller. And she adds that Temple’s work as a board member, medical advisor, and now co-director is invaluable.

Jim Shmerling, executive director and CEO of Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital, says Nurses for Newborns’ work is consistent with the Children’s Hospital mission to further the health and well being of children and that he is pleased with the federal funding. “Their survival is going to take a lot of external funding. If they don’t keep getting additional funding each year, their viability will be threatened,” he said.

He says talks are under way now with the National Nurses for Newborns Foundation to discuss bringing Tennessee’s program together with the current home care program at Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital, since the two programs offer similar services. “Proposals are on the table now that could bring the two programs closer together, creating a model that’s good for Vanderbilt and good for Nurses for Newborns. We think there’s a way to work together more closely,” Shmerling said.

In the meantime, Strauss says the program should concentrate on areas of improvement. “The program has tremendous potential. They really need to evaluate their outcomes, to see where they can do more, but they’re off to a great start,” Strauss said.

Temple says the wheels are already in motion to do just that, evaluating the health outcome of newborns participating in the program through a collaborative research team at Vanderbilt University. The research team includes Temple, Melanie Lutenbacher, Ph.D., associate professor of Nursing; Joe Hepworth, Ph.D., research associate professor of Nursing; Larry Gaines, Ph.D., associate professor of Psychiatry; and Robin McWilliam, Ph.D., director of the Child Development Center, working together to evaluate and discuss the model used by Nurses for Newborns.

The $250,000 will be funded from the Centers for Disease Control’s Violence Prevention Program.