OKEECHOBEE — Healthy Start is a free home visiting program that provides education and care coordination to pregnant women and families of children under the age of 3.
As Okeechobee’s maternal and child health advocate, the goal of the program is to lower risk factors associated with preterm birth, low birth weight, infant mortality, and poor developmental outcomes. It is Healthy Start’s mission locally and across the state to assure women have access to care. This is the same goal that Dr. Ruel T. Stoessel is striving to accomplish. His main mission is to provide Okeechobee County with a long-term, sustainable prenatal care program as well as general OB care to all ages of women.
Okeechobee County currently has no prenatal care for women. As of Feb. 4, the local Florida Community Health Center, that was seeing 60% of Okeechobee County mothers during their pregnancy, stopped receiving clients for prenatal care due to the provider putting in her notice. During this same week, Dr. Stoessel was planning to close his Okeechobee location. After hearing the devastating news about Okeechobee being left with no prenatal care services, Dr. Stoessel contacted Healthy Start to try to create a strategic plan to ensure that the community would have prenatal services.
Andrea Medellin, the executive director at Healthy Start scheduled a virtual call with Dr. Stoessel’s team, Mayor Dowling Watford, and all members of the local maternal and child health entities. On this call, all community partners were able to discuss the barriers that local families face with receiving prenatal care.
Dr. Stoessel said he has noticed an increase in high-risk pregnancies for our local mothers and an increase in surgical risk during the pregnancy. Maternal clients in Okeechobee are becoming more and more high risk he stated. As these risks increase, the health risks move from the mother to the baby. The community needs a local practice that will be able to supply complete comprehensive care to Okeechobee mothers as well as women for not just maternal and fetal medicine, but also full comprehensive care for all women.
Easily accessible, advanced local care also allows an economical increase and jobs for members in our community.
Dr. Stoessel is looking for a new Okeechobee location to be able to afford to continue to provide prenatal care locally. He has not been able to sustain enough clientele to remain in his former office just north of the hospital.
Healthy Start wants to help Dr. Stoessel combat these barriers so his office can continue to provide local women with sustainable prenatal and OB/GYN care.
Health Start's is helping his office spread the word, connecting other maternal and child health advocates. Healthy Start will hold a “Lunch and Learn” later this month to discuss the threats our families are facing with no local prenatal care. Healthy Start will also offer prenatal vouchers for mothers with no insurance. These vouchers can be used at Dr. Stoessel’s office. Healthy Start will also assist with the hunt to find available, affordable office space that can be used for his prenatal care practice.
Dr. Stossel currently is seeing clients at his Palm Springs, Palm Beach Gardens, Belle Glade and Port Saint Lucie offices. His practice offers maternal and fetal medicine, imaging fetal testing, general OB/GYN services, echocardiogram, advanced CardioScans and IV iron infusions. Healthy Start hopes to see an increase in Okeechobee women at his practices which would allow him to justify bringing prenatal care services back to Okeechobee County.
Since the scheduling of the virtual call, Healthy Start was informed that Florida Community Health Center will begin conducting prenatal care services starting March 23. They will only be open two days a week. Those in need of service are advised to call their office directly. Healthy Start is also available to help guide mothers who need care.
To learn more, follow Okeechobee Healthy Start’s Facebook page or call at 863-462-5877.