GUYSBOROUGH — Nova Scotia’s northeastern counties will become the first jurisdictions in the province to offer an internationally renowned home nursing program specifically designed for pregnant women in need.
The Nurse-Family Partnership – which provides neo-natal care directly to women who might never have access to such services through the regular healthcare system – will be introduced in Antigonish and Guysborough counties and Cape Breton as a pilot in early 2024, Nova Scotia Health (NSH) Eastern Zone Manager Jen McDougall told the The Journal following the announcement in Halifax last week.
An evidence-based program established in 1978 in the United States, and used in eight countries, Ontario and British Columbia, it “pairs a public health nurse with people who are pregnant with their first child and who experience overlapping challenges in their lives,” she said. “This [might be] related to previous adversity, challenging circumstances in their current life. It’s intended for those families that need it the most – whose health outcomes might be at risk without some support like this.”
Functionally, the program sends nurses into homes where they work with newly pregnant women (ideally at 16 weeks), through birth and right up to the child’s second birthday. Clients can self-refer or be referred by health-care providers or community organizations. “The partnership looks at improving prenatal outcomes, child health and development outcomes and also at improving economic self-sufficiency [of women and families] over time,” McDougall said.
She added that northeastern Nova Scotia was selected to pilot the program because of its unique demographics. “We are interested in the context in which we deliver the program. Because it’ll be delivered in all of Cape Breton and in Antigonish and Guysborough counties, we’ll have a rural-urban mix. We are interested in learning what the differences are, and we’ll use what we learn in the first year to plan for the following year.”
NSH officials are working with healthcare professionals, hospitals and community organizations in the eastern zone to promote the program, begin the referral process and recruit nurses.
“We will be hiring seven nurses for the eastern zone, covering all of Cape Breton, Antigonish and Guysborough,” McDougall said. “We will have three nurses [specifically] for the western part of Cape Breton, Antigonish and Guysborough.
“In Guysborough, we would receive the referral, go through some conversations and assessments to determine if this [program] might be a good fit for a family... It’s a voluntary program, very much strengths-based. It looks at what a family’s aspirations are for themselves and their child. And it really looks at working over a period of time to help create the conditions that make those changes, to match those goals.”
According to the Denver, Colorado-based Nurse-Family Partnership non-profit organization, the program has measurably improved the lives of mothers and babies where it has been offered in the United States. Maternal health outcomes, it reports, included 35 per cent fewer cases of hypertension, and 79 per cent fewer pre-term deliveries by mothers who smoked cigarettes in 1997 and 1986, respectively. Child health outcomes, meanwhile, were 67 per cent fewer behavioural and intellectual problems by age six, and 56 per cent fewer ER visits due to accidents or poisoning though age 21 in 1997 and 2004, respectively.
“This program for Nova Scotia is an investment under the provincial government’s Action for Health Plan,” MacDougall said. “We understand that it isn’t a standalone, and it isn’t for everyone. We’re not assuming that one program solves everything. But, we look at all the connections and what’s most appropriate for [individual] families. We’re all working together.”