OKEECHOBEE — Healthy Start is kicking off the new year with three new programs to assist them in meeting the needs of local families.
Executive Director Andrea Medellin explains when she or her staff come across a need that is not being met elsewhere, they make it their business to try to remedy the situation.
The new programs are the Fatherhood Program, the Doula Program which has now been named “Birth & Beyond” and last, but not least, one of the programs is the “Fetal & Infant Mortality Review.”
Though the program is new to Okeechobee, they have been doing it across the state for years. Now, all coalitions throughout the state have been tasked to do it because they have seen the benefit.
In short, she explained, any time there is an infant death within the first year of their life or a miscarriage after 20 weeks, it is logged and put through a case methodology process. All medical data is reviewed. On a local level, they pull a record of any services the family may have received to find out what resources they were receiving, which ones they knew about. “Basically, the final goal is to find out if the death was preventable,” Medillin explained. “And, if it was preventable, we want to implement a strategic community plan to help bring awareness to the community and prevent any deaths we can.
“This subject is sometimes difficult to talk about,” said Medillin. “It’s also imperative that we do it.”
Over the last 30 years since the Healthy Start Coalition came to Okeechobee, the infant mortality rate has decreased by 11.4%. In 2021, there were no infant deaths. “We are looking more into miscarriages now as well. We want to find areas where we could have, should have filled a gap. Unfortunately, some deaths are not preventable, but we want to help where we can.”
The Birth & Beyond program is near and dear to the heart of Cassidy Medillin. She is the first trained doula in the coalition. The program will serve those in labor and post-partum. “A doula is a non-medical, trained professional who offers emotional and physical support and comfort to moms,” she explained. Some of the doulas are trained to help through the labor and delivery, and others are trained to help afterward. “The post-partum doulas help with anything the mom needs. She may need comfort. She may be so overwhelmed that she is not doing laundry. The doula will help her with these things that seem so overwhelming to her.”
A pilot of the program will roll out to Healthy Start clients only, but soon, they want to open this service up to the community.
The Fatherhood Program is brand new and very few coalitions have it yet. Okeechobee is partnering with another coalition in Martin County that has been running this program successfully for over 30 years. The goal of this program is to teach the father how to be a dad. “There does not have to be bad behavior in the home. It can just be that he does not have any idea how to be a dad,” said Medillin. Maybe he is unfamiliar with holding a baby. Maybe he needs help connecting with a child. Even if mom and dad are not together, the dad can be a part of the program. His services are separate from the mom’s and the baby’s. There are many stressors affecting dad, and he needs the same education and resources mom does to learn how to handle them.
Healthy Start clients are not admitted based on income. Rather, they are each considered at high risk and in need of some type of intervention. The risk might be that the mother is younger than the norm or older than the norm. Maybe the mom already has young children in the home. Maybe there is no father in the home, etc. The services offered by Healthy Start are all risk based. Approximately 85% of mothers giving birth in Okeechobee are clients of Healthy Start Coalition. For more information, call 863-462-5877.
On Jan. 19, Healthy Start will host a Lunch and Learn event geared toward the community providers and professionals in the area. The event will be held at IRSC in the Williamson Conference Center at noon.
A second Lunch and Learn will be held on Feb. 3. This one will be directed toward women or families who are thinking of having a baby or who are expecting.