About 4,000 babies born at Parkland Health could receive home visits from nurses as early as next summer as part of a newly approved program by the city of Dallas and Dallas County aimed at improving health outcomes for mothers and children.
The city and county will each commit $2 million in COVID-19 relief to fund between one and three home visits by nurses to all Dallas residents who give birth in Parkland through the end of 2024. The nurses will use assessments not only to check families during the first 12 weeks of the newborn’s life, but to direct them to other community resources.
The Dallas City Council approved the program Wednesday, while Dallas County commissioners approved the measure in October.
Family participation in the program will be voluntary, and Parkland plans to initially target 4,000 of the more than 12,000 mothers who give birth at the hospital each year. The program will include Dallas County residents and Dallas City residents who live in Collin and Denton counties.
“It really helps these … parents in the first few months … settle in and get used to it,” said Jessica Galeshaw, the city’s director of community outreach. “Just those visits one to three have shown that they can reduce hospitalizations for these babies, that they can reduce abuse cases.”
Parkland will likely use the Family Connects program or a similar model to implement the universal platform for newborn nurse home visits. The model specifically targets three outcomes: reducing potential child abuse and neglect, reducing use of emergency care for infants and toddlers, and reducing anxiety and depression in parents.
A study of the program published in 2021 found that among nearly 5,000 families, those who received a Family Connects intervention had 39 percent fewer child protective services investigations for child abuse under the age of 5 age and 33% less overall pediatric urgent care use than families who were not assigned to the program.
Family Connects is already being used in North Texas through partnerships with local community organizations and health care providers, including My Health My Resources of Tarrant County, United Way Metropolitan Dallas, Metrocare, TexProtects and some Texas Health and Medical City locations.
Under the proposal, Parkland and Family Connects North Texas would work with parent nonprofit Family Connects International to build the program, although the hospital system could choose to use a different home visiting model.
At Wednesday’s council meeting, council member Cara Mendelsohn questioned whether the program would be duplicitous, given that some newborn nurse home visiting programs already exist in the area.
Galleshaw said because Parkland is a public health system, it allows the city and county to use COVID-19 relief funds to fund the program.
“If we had to work with other hospitals that are either privately funded or even hospitals that are not-for-profit but primarily accept private payer insurance, that could create a problem with making sure we can do the service,” Galeshaw said .
Parkland and its community partners already have a number of programs for mothers and newborns, including the Extending Maternal Care After Pregnancy program, the Dallas Health Start program to reduce infant mortality and low birth weight, and the Nurse-Family Partnership, which partners first-time mothers with nursing home visitors until their babies are two years old.
The Universal Newborn Nurse Home Visiting Program will differ from other maternal and newborn health programs in that it focuses on the first months of a baby’s life. It is also available to families regardless of socioeconomic status.
“It’s a low-resource program that’s specifically designed to fill the gaps for programs that exist,” Galeshaw said.