The Georgia Department of Public Health has begun testing a three-year pilot program in more than a dozen counties. 

This story also appeared in Georgia Public Broadcasting

The Georgia Home Visiting Program is designed to curb the state’s worsening maternal and infant mortality rate and is launching in Coffee, Atkinson, Clinch, Jeff Davis, Evans, Candler, Toombs, Bulloch, Habersham, Stephens, Franklin, Hart and Banks counties.

Georgia ranks at the bottom for health care access, and the state’s maternal mortality rate is among the worst in the nation and even the developed world. More than 750 Georgia babies died before their first birthday in 2020, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated the effects of social determinants of health on maternal health disparities, including factors such as transportation, technology, living environment and employment. But Senate Bill 106, also known as the Healthy Babies Act, provides DPH $1.7 million in funding to hire a mix of nurses and other health workers for a pilot home-visiting program.

The pilot will provide a full spectrum of services to support families, including clinical services for pregnant and postpartum women as well as links to resources and services, William Bell with DPH said at its May board meeting.

As part of the program, home visits administered through the Georgia Department of Community Health give pregnant women and at-risk families with children help from birth until kindergarten. Assistance provided to new parents creates consistent, ongoing support during the first years of their child’s life.

“The overall goals of the home visiting program are to increase healthy pregnancies, improve parenting skills, improve child health and development, strengthen family connectedness to community supports, and reduce childhood abuse and neglect,” Bell said.

Megan Andrews with DPH also spoke about the pilot, saying the state health department has done a lot of cross-agency collaboration to ensure families aren’t falling through the cracks. She said cross-agency communication is crucial.

Women at high risk for adverse pregnancy outcomes including previous poor pregnancy outcomes, pregnancy complications, multi-gestational pregnancy, medical conditions, HIV infection, and substance use will be referred by their provider for home visiting services.

These providers include the Division of Family and Children Services, pregnant women on Medicaid, and hospital emergency rooms.

Anyone interested in participating in the Georgia Home Visiting Program can call 1-855-707-8277 to schedule a professional screening with First Steps Georgia to determine the best course of action.

This story comes to The Current GA through a reporting partnership with GPB News, a non-profit newsroom covering the state of Georgia.

Ellen Eldridge is a reporter for Georgia Public Broadcasting.