Sponsored By
An organization or individual has paid for the creation of this work but did not approve or review it.



Matching mothers with mentors in rural Minnesota

WILLMAR, Minn. - Shortly after she learned she was pregnant, Alexis Buehler - who was 18 years old at the time - was put in contact with a nurse who has helped guide the young mother on a positive path of parenting her 13-month-old daughter, Carmen.

Alexis Buehler, left, holds her 13-month-old daughter, Carmen, during a recent visit by a nurse with Kandiyohi County’s Supporting Hands Nurse-Family Partnership program. Lois Peters, right, began meeting with Buehler before her baby was born as part of the Supporting Hands Nurse-Family Partnership program. Kandiyohi County joined the program in 2012 as a way to help first-time mothers deal with pregnancy and early childhood years. Forum News Service

WILLMAR, Minn. – Shortly after she learned she was pregnant, Alexis Buehler – who was 18 years old at the time – was put in contact with a nurse who has helped guide the young mother on a positive path of parenting her 13-month-old daughter, Carmen.
It’s a relationship that will last until Carmen is 2 years old.
“She really helped because she was there for me and I could talk to her,” said Buehler, referring to Lois Peters, from Supporting Hands Nurse-Family Partnership.
Comprised of 20 west-central Minnesota counties, the community health program brings together specially trained public health nurses with vulnerable, low-income, first-time mothers and their babies for about 60 voluntary home visits.
The goal is to improve the health, education and economic self-sufficiency of mother and baby.
“I am sold on it. I see it work,” Peters said. “It’s healthier for mom and baby, and they make better choices for their baby and themselves.”
Peters works primarily with families in Kandiyohi County, which joined the Supporting Hands Nurse-Family Partnership in 2013.
In Minnesota, the fast-growing program is offered in more than 40 counties.
Nationwide, it’s provided in 43 states.
The Supporting Hands agency is unusual because it includes 20 counties, stretching from Douglas County in west-central Minnesota to Rock County in the southwest corner of the state.
Creating a multi-county entity was the best way to bring the services to rural Minnesota, said Mary Jo O’Brien, executive director of the Supporting Hands Nurse-Family Partnership.
Adding Kandiyohi County to the partnership was a “big deal,” said O’Brien, and increased the number of referrals so much that a 10th nurse was just hired to help handle cases on the waiting list.
The nurses “travel to some pretty isolated rural areas in these 20 counties,” said O’Brien, who was the Minnesota Commissioner of Health under Gov. Arne Carlson and had served as the 13-state regional manager for the national Nurse-Family Partnership.
With a passion for bringing the life-changing program to more women and their babies, O’Brien came out of retirement to work for the Supporting Hands Nurse-Family Partnership. “I love this program,” she said.
The nurses who work for the agency are housed at eight county public health offices throughout the 20-county area. But they spend most of their time meeting with women on their own turf.
“We’re a virtual organization. We don’t have a central office anyplace,” said O’Brien, who has high praise for the nurses. “I can’t say enough about them. They’re all gems.”
The nurses get together every two weeks in Willmar for training and to discuss their case loads, which continue to grow.
There are currently 165 women participating with 35 more on the waiting list.
Along with federal funding and payments from clients’ health plans – including Medicaid – counties also contribute financially.
Kandiyohi County has $82,800 budgeted for the program for this year, which includes a local investment of $21,500, according to Kandiyohi County Health and Human Services Director Ann Stehn.
O’Brien said study after study on the Nurse-Family Partnership shows that the investment reaps big short-term and long-term returns.
One report on the partnership’s website said every dollar invested can yield more than $5 in returns through decreases in the number of families enrolled in Medicaid and food stamps programs. Savings are also realized through improvements in pregnancy outcomes, health status, school achievement, parental employment and family stability.
For Buehler, the savings come from decreased worry and increased confidence as she raises her child.
“I’m a better mom because of it,” Buehler said.
Buehler was about 16 weeks pregnant when she first met Peters for prenatal visits.
After Carmen was born in December of 2013, Peters met with her once a week for six weeks.
The voluntary home visits are now scheduled for twice a month and will gradually be reduced until Alexis and Carmen graduate from the program next December, when the toddler turns 2.
By that time, they will have participated in about 60 home visits.
Support system

Along with doing some basic health-related activities, such as weighing and measuring the little girl, Peters takes time to talk to Buehler – but most importantly listen to her – about her new life as a mom and the constantly changing activities of the toddler
“We talk about anything and everything,” said Buehler, who lives in Willmar.
The information and the relationship is especially important to Buehler, whose own mother died after a long struggle with cancer several months before Carmen was born.
“I didn’t have anyone to show me the ropes,” said Buehler, who chatted about her experience with the program in-between encouraging Carmen, a dark-eyed cutie, to keep stacking her toy cups in a pyramid.
There were times when Buehler had questions about changes to her body when she was pregnant and concerns about what to do with a crying baby after Carmen was born.
“It’s just a whole new experience,” Buehler said.
Knowing that Peters would be coming soon for another visit when questions could be asked and advice received was a huge relief.
“It was a weight off my shoulders,” Buehler said. “I honestly don’t know what I’d do without her. She’s helped me a lot.”
Peters said Carmen’s growth and development is right on target and so are Buhler’s parenting skills.
“Alexis is a great mom,” Peters said. “She’s interactive with Carmen and she can read her cues.”
During the visits, Peters said she focuses on the mom’s strengths and then gives suggestions and “opportunities to come up with the solutions.”
Peters said she uses a variety of tools to address topics that range from what foods to feed the baby to self-esteem concerns for women who may have delayed college to take care of their child.
“We support mom’s decisions,” Peters said.
According to the Nurse-Family Partnership website, studies conducted during the nearly 40 years the program has existed indicate participants do make good decisions and take positive actions that improve their family’s lives.
There is improved prenatal health, according to the partnership reports, and there are fewer childhood injuries, fewer subsequent pregnancies and increased intervals between births, plus increased maternal employment and improved school readiness.
Even though the home visits end when the child is 2 years old, the results of the early intervention can last much longer.
According to a study cited by the partnership, there can be a 67 percent reduction in behavioral and intellectual problems when the child is 6 years old and a 59 percent reduction in child arrests at age 15. The report also cites an 82 percent increase in months that mothers were employed.
Buehler said she had intended to go to college after high school. Having a baby was not in her plan, but she loves being a mom and considers motherhood simply a “detour” to reaching her goal of secondary education.
Buehler said she hopes other moms take advantage of the voluntary program.
With the support and advocacy of the nurses, O’Brien said the program can “help the moms realize their hearts’ desires.”

Carolyn Lange is a features writer at the West Central Tribune. She can be reached at clange@wctrib.com or 320-894-9750
What To Read Next
Get Local