Helping the most vulnerable

By Emily Bialkowski

Caledonia Argus


Some of Houston County’s most vulnerable population is aided by the services of the public health department. Each year the department must justify its budgetary needs and, in a way, speak for those who rely on such services.

At the Feb. 5 county board meeting Public health Director Deb Rock and several staff members discussed programs that benefit young children and mothers.

Rock said January was Birth Defect Prevention Month and mentioned some of the programs in public health that pertain to that specific issue, such as WIC, Family Home Visits and the Peer Breast Feeding Support program.

She said she wanted the board to become familiar with what the programs offer, how they help the county and how they help local families.


WIC program

Diane Sullivan spoke on the Women, Infants and Children program (WIC). She is a registered dietician and the WIC coordinator and has been with the county since 1990.

“The purpose of the program is to prevent health problems and improve the health of participants,” Sullivan said.

In Houston County, $15,900 in food vouchers are redeemed each month to supplement the nutrition of infants, children age one through five, expectant mothers, breast feeding mothers and postpartum mothers up to six months.

In 2012, 119 women received WIC support, 140 infants and 220 children, Sullivan said.

The program is funded by the USDA, and participants undergo an eligibility screening related to dietary needs and income.

In the state of Minnesota 47 percent of children age one to four are eligible for WIC support.


Peer Breast Feeding Support

Jesie Melde, Peer Breast Feeding Support (PBFS) supervisor and health educator,    explained the partnership between Fillmore and Houston Counties on the joint PBFS program, which is supplement to the WIC program.

The program offers educational information and peer counselors to women during and after pregnancy.

Houston County has been actively involved in the program for two years now with current client rates at 32 pregnant women in Fillmore County; 14 in Houston; 12 breast-feeding moms in Fillmore County; seven in Houston.

Melde shared some testimonies from moms who have utilized the program, one of which came from a mom of triplets who was able to breast feed her babies for six weeks with very little formula to supplement.

The program continues to grow as more moms recommend the option to their peers, Melde said.


Family Home Visits

Mary Zaffke, public health nurse, discussed Family Home Visiting. This 20-year veteran described with enthusiasm the importance the first years of life are for a child.

She said, “Research supports the idea that the quality of life for a child and the contributions the child makes to society as an adult can be traced back to the first years of life.”

She said that if you were to Google Adverse Childhood Experiences, “You’ll see interesting information about what a child experiences in youth effects future life situations, such as substance abuse, mental health issues, poverty and domestic violence.”

Zaffke said public health fosters healthy beginnings starting at pregnancy. She displayed a laundry list of how Home Family Visits promote positive child development while preventing problems like child abuse and neglect and juvenile delinquency.

The benefits include, among others, fewer low birth-weight babies, fewer child deaths, fewer hospitalizations due to accident, fewer language delays, fewer instances of child neglect, reduced use of special education and more, she said.

Participation in the program is strictly voluntary, and families are sometimes identified through the WIC program. During a family home visit parents receive

education, information and coping tools.

Zaffke said, “From zero to five the brain is under construction. The work of the Family Home Visiting program helps support the work at that very important construction site and the youngest members of Houston County.”

In conclusion, Rock said it is her intention to routinely return to the county board to educate the commissioners on the work of the public health department.