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Nurses for newborns

February 3, 2005 -- Today The Tennessean ran Larry Bivens' Gannett News Service piece about the St. Louis-based Nurses for Newborns program, which provides vital home care to low-income, at-risk mothers and newborn infants. The medium-length piece provides a generally good look at this program, with quotes from a local patient, a physician who co-directs the local program, supportive Member of Congress Jim Cooper (D-Nashville), and two of the program's key local patrons, Tennessee Titans football player Fred Miller and his wife Kim. Can you guess the one relevant category not represented with a quote in this otherwise commendable piece about "Nurses for Newborns?" We thought so.

In "Midstate nursing program catches eye of Congress," Bivins explains that Nurses for Newborns "is geared toward young mothers whose infants are at risk because of social and economic conditions," and that the "key aspect" of the program is "the home visitation by licensed registered nurses." The article focuses on the experience of a family helped by the program's Tennessee operation, that of Vattika Stevenson, whose 3-month-old son Deandre had a "stubborn fever" and respiratory problems. Nurses for Newborns' nurse Barbara Williams, who appears in a photo with Deandre, reportedly examined the child and determined that he needed to go to the ED (or as the piece puts it, that he "needed to see a doctor"). Stevenson notes that Williams explained to her that this was necessary because the child was wheezing and had had a fever for more than 24 hours, and praises the nurse: "If it weren't for her, his lungs would have collapsed."

The piece reports that the Millers were responsible for bringing the program to Tennessee, providing $1.5 million in funding since the program's start in 2001. Nurses for Newborns now operates in 22 Tennessee counties, and Kim Miller notes that the program has served more than 5,000 families. The program "caught the attention" of Rep. Cooper, who was able to arrange $250,000 in federal funding. Cooper is quoted saying he thinks that program should expand to operate nationwide, especially to assist military families. The piece notes that program supporters emphasize its cost-effectiveness, and that it "can help prevent child abuse and health complications in infants." Bivins includes good quotes from physician Patricia Temple, who is "co-director" of the program in Nashville and a Vanderbilt pediatrics professor. Temple reportedly explained, at a Congressional staff briefing on Capitol Hill about the the program, how much cheaper home nurse visits are than ED visits. (Though the piece does not say so, a recent Penn State study confirmed this.) Temple also notes that many of the young, poor mothers served by the program are unaware of proper prenatal care or "basic" things such as how to breastfeed, and argues that every mother "deserves to have a baby nurse come in and help them." (We'll assume that Temple would be happy to be described as a "baby physician.")

It's unfortunate that there was no room in this generally good piece for any comment from the nurses whose care is its subject. Of course, there is a photo of Ms. Williams and significant praise for her work from a patient. But it seems to us that nurses would be the ultimate experts on the health benefits and other aspects of the program, and including quotes from them would help the public understand that. Certainly everyone quoted deserves to be, but no one deserves it more than the nurses who actually provide the care.

See the article "Midstate nursing program catches eye of Congress" by Larry Bivins from the Gannett New Service in the February 3, 2005 edition of the Tennessean.