Many new moms "very appreciative" of WIC's post-birth visits in the hospital
Sep. 27, 2023
By Mary Wade Burnside
On a late summer day, Ralynn Thomas rests in her room at WVU Medicine Children’s when she receives a visit from Michelle Kline, a breastfeeding counselor at Monongalia County Health Department’s WIC office.
The new mother had already signed up for WIC, the acronym for the federal nutrition assistance program Women, Infants and Children, while she was pregnant with her newborn son, Terry Myers.
The women chat and Thomas, of Rowlesburg, shows Kline a phone photo of Terry, currently doing well in the NICU. If he were there with Thomas, Kline could augment the hospital’s lactation specialists’ instructions with some breastfeeding tips if needed.
And if Thomas had not already signed up for WIC during her pregnancy, Kline could supply her with an EBT card to use for shopping for approved items.
“Some new mothers stop by the WIC office on their way home from the hospital, newborn in tow, so this is very convenient for them,” Kline said.
When you’ve just packed a tiny baby into your car, repeating the process a few minutes later at the nearby MCHD WIC office is not what most new parents want to do on the way home from the hospital, she explained.
That’s where MCHD WIC’s new collaboration with WVU Medicine Children’s comes in. The hospital contacted the MCHD WIC office earlier this year to discuss a joint effort that would involve having WIC staff on site to connect new mothers and their babies to the nutrition program and help them with any other WIC-related needs.
“We have a lot of patients that require a lot of support,” said Miranda Nuzum, director of perinatal nursing at WVU Medicine Children’s. “So we were tasked to find a way to collaborate with a facility to help prepare our patients or get them signed up for resources prior to leaving the hospital.”
Said Cami Haught, program manager of MCHD WIC, which encompasses the WIC offices in Monongalia, Preston, Marion, Harrison, Taylor and Doddridge counties: “We thought it was a great idea.”
And the new mothers have embraced the help. “One mom said she was much more comfortable coming into the clinic,” Haught said. “She felt like she knew us already. I thought that was really cool. She felt like she had a relationship with us because we met her at the hospital.”
WIC provides nutrition and breastfeeding support, health education and other services, free of charge, to pregnant women, mothers, infants and children up to the age of 5 who qualify. And anyone, not just clients, can take advantage of WIC’s free breastfeeding classes.
Kline began visiting the hospital in late June, and since then, she’s interacted with about 100 patients. As of early September, 20 new clients had been signed up, 17 clients had joined again since having more children, and she helped 14 with breastfeeding.
She coordinates with WVU Medicine Children’s nurses, who point her in the direction of mothers who are settled in their rooms after giving birth, perhaps waiting to be discharged.
“When we are able to get in there and meet with the mamas, it’s really nice,” Kline said. “The moms love it.”
Early on, Kline was able to provide an entire appointment for a new mother, including issuing an EBT card.
“She was super excited that we were able to get it all taken care of,” Kline said.
On this day, she’s able to make an appointment for Thomas to come into MCHD WIC for her son’s first visit.
WVU Medicine Children’s officials are pleased at how well the partnership is working.
“We feel it’s really going to impact the health of the moms and the babies,” said Mary Fanning, vice president of nursing clinical services at WVU Medicine Children’s. “It’s a strategy to decrease barriers to promote health.”
In the beginning, details of the alliance needed to be worked out, such as the more convenient days for WIC to be stationed at the hospital.
Also, “We were thinking of having a central location, because we didn’t want to disrupt the patients by going into the room,” Fanning said. “But we flipped that and we were able to actually go into the patients’ rooms.”
Kline and her WIC colleagues, who already have HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) training, signed patient privacy releases. A computer cart made Kline’s office portable; she can easily wheel it into a patient’s room and get started on the appointment.
“It usually takes about 20 minutes; maybe longer if they are breastfeeding and need some help,” Kline said.
And Kline knows that she is able to reach potential clients who might have otherwise slipped through the cracks.
“One mom told me that if I had not reached out to her in the hospital, she probably wouldn’t have taken the time to contact us. She was very appreciative.”
Mary Wade Burnside is the public information officer at Monongalia County Health Department.