Eagle County Board of Health plants seeds for universal home visits for newborns
The opt-in program would be available to every parent of a newborn in the county
Members of Eagle County Public Health raised the idea of starting a universal home visitation program for new parents in Eagle County at the April 26 Board of Health meeting.
Joan Dieter, the health family Manager for the county, noted that the health budget in Eagle County currently allocates about 52% of funds to intervention, 20% to treatment, and 18% to prevention and health promotion. Dieter said that in all forms of well-being, but especially when it comes to mental health, preventive measures are highly effective and are increasingly becoming a focus for the department.
The aim of a universal home visitation program is to provide every family, regardless of income level or other restrictive factors, the opportunity to have a nurse visit their home within three weeks of a new child being born. The primary objective of the visit would be to assess the individual needs of each family and connect them to additional resources available in the community that best meet those needs.
There are three home visitation options currently available in Eagle County, including the Nurse Family Partnership, Parents as Teachers offered through Early Head Start, and intensive case management through early childhood partners. Dieter said that although these programs have all proven to have a positive impact on the families they reach, due to various restraints they are together only reaching about 25% of new births in Eagle County.
“We really feel that providing a universal home visitation model so that we catch that 75% that we’re missing, and connect them to resources, is really a place that we can shine,” Dieter said. “We know that if we can provide support on that universal level, we can have a touch point with each of our community members that then allows us to use other systems within the community to respond in an equitable manner to the needs of the people that we’re working with.”
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Only two states, New Jersey and Oregon, currently offer universal home visiting programs, and such a program does not yet exist in Colorado. If adopted in Eagle County, Dieter said that county workers plan to utilize the same Family Connects model that is being used in those states. Three other Colorado counties — Denver, Boulder and Jefferson County — are already taking strides to adopt similar programs through Family Connects, which if adopted can be used as a framework for Eagle County’s system.
Public Health Director Heath Harmon said that early intervention programs like home visitations are proven to have significant impacts on the health and well-being of a child over the course of their lifetime.
“It’s amazing what we don’t recall from the ages of zero to 2, but biologically and psychologically we remember,” Harmon said. “Our bodies remember, so it still impacts health outcomes, whether we’re talking about behavioral health or we’re talking about healthy eating, or something else.”
Currently there is no concrete plan or timeline for implementing such a program, but by presenting the concept to the Board of Health, Harmon said that the county is setting the foundation to tap into possible state funding and other opportunities to make implementing universal home visits a reality in Eagle County.
“Our hope here is to plant that seed,” Harmon said. “This is our collective effort to try to make sure we’re taking advantage of some of the other opportunities that are either in our community right now, or should be in our community within the next months to years.”