When Susan Stell gave birth to her first child last June, she had many questions and concerns about caring for her newborn at home. But those fears soon subsided, thanks to the “Keeping Families Healthy” program offered by Stony Brook Long Island Children’s Hospital.
Stell and her newborn baby, Ashante Williamson, were visited at home seven times over the next six months by a community health worker who answered her questions and connected her with the resources she needed.
“She was able to do practical things such as weigh and measure Ashante, but also take down questions and forward them to the pediatricians,” Stell said. “It was really special because as a first-time mom, I had a lot of questions. With [the community health worker] coming, it kept me on top of things. She would relay the questions to my pediatrician. I was impressed that the doctor took time out to call me personally and answer my questions.
Funded through a Healthcare Efficiency and Affordability Law for New Yorkers (HEAL NY 6) grant, the program enables Stony Brook’s primary care clinics in Patchogue and Islip to dispatch community health workers to patients’ homes in between office visits. The workers are hired, trained and managed by the Federation of Organizations, a non-profit community social welfare organization.
Keeping Families Healthy has three main areas of focus: the management of prevalent chronic diseases, such as asthma, diabetes and obesity; well child and adolescent issues, such as developing healthy eating habits and preventing disease; and the care of newborns when parents often need education and support. The service is free for children up to 18 years of age who either have Medicaid insurance or suffer from a chronic health condition.
“The Keeping Families Healthy program is a successful model of how community health workers can keep families connected to the pediatrician’s office between visits,” said Margaret M. McGovern, professor and chair, Department of Pediatrics, Stony Brook University School of Medicine, and physician-in-chief, Stony Brook Long Island Children’s Hospital. “By providing health education and other services in between office visits, our pediatricians are able to devote more attention to specific health concerns during the office visit and families feel more satisfied with the care they receive.”
Since starting in July, the program has helped more than 240 children through more than 500 home visits.
Under the supervision of a pediatrician, the community health workers provide assistance ranging from helping families fully understand and adhere to the recommended treatment plan for their child, to helping a child with special needs access the resources needed to be successful in school, to teaching healthy eating and exercise habits. Community health workers also connect parents with resources they may not know about, such as the Early Intervention program, WIC (Women, Infants and Children), Medicaid and the availability of food pantries, medical transportation and programs to provide care seats, bicycle helmets and books.