BY RICK KAZMER
United Way of the Laurel Highlands
At 18 months old, registered nurse Lisa Miller wants to see the children she works with walking, following directions and using fine motor skills.
"Grab and grasp," she said, describing some of the benchmarks she notes, including turning doorknobs.
Miller is the supervisor for Nurse-Family Partnership in Somerset and Bedford counties, a program implemented by Home Nursing Agency, part of UPMC Home Healthcare of Central Pennsylvania.
The Somerset County program is supported by the United Way of the Laurel Highlands, serving first-time, income-eligible moms.
It's a crucial program that provides moms with registered nurses to offer guidance throughout pregnancy, from early pregnancy until the baby turns 2.
On Nov. 30 Miller visited a Windber mom who has 18-month-old twins.
"It's one of the most rewarding jobs I have ever had," the career medical professional said, shortly after her visit with the Windber family.
The twins are doing well, curious tots entering an exciting part of their lives. It's a busy time for the mother, too. Miller said she is a full-time college student with plans to continue her education.
Part of the program is helping the moms achieve their goals.
"It's a client-centered program," she said, adding that a large part of the process involves talking with moms to determine their life plans, and setting them up with a way to find success. It's also voluntary. “Our clients love when we come, we rarely have one who doesn’t want our program anymore."
The nurses visit the moms, often bi-weekly, but they can visit more if a mother is struggling. Miller said they educate mothers on how to care for the new baby, from basics like breastfeeding, to the more complex details of raising a child. The nurses also assess the mother during pregnancy by checking the baby’s heartbeat and blood pressure. After the baby is born, the nurse is assessing the physical and developmental aspects of the baby.
The visits happen at home, or sometimes moms like to meet in a park or other comfortable area. Often, moms simply need someone with whom they can talk.
"We might be the only person that mom sees in two weeks," Miller said, noting that at times the nurse becomes a counselor. "Sometimes we just sit and listen to her."
A visit can last from 45 minutes to a couple hours depending on the mother's needs.
The pandemic has had an impact. Miller said depression numbers are up. She and her team have been doing more virtual meetings. Some mother's prefer that method, but Miller likes in-person visits.
It's the best way to see a child develop, to watch their dexterity as they pick up blocks and toys -- and to listen to their language development.
Miller said that most of the moms she works with want to succeed, sometimes that means breaking a cycle from their own youth. That could be smoking cigarettes or drug use. It's also about providing a stable home.
"They want to do what's best for their child," she said, adding that the job's rewards are priceless, especially when she sees evidence of success.
"A client who graduated two years ago just sent me Christmas pictures," she said.
For questions about the program, call 800-315-4358, or text 814-381-5221.