For more than eight years, the Prenatal Universal Screen Program – at Smart Beginnings Virginia Peninsula (SBVP), a local nonprofit – has helped thousands of women be more prepared as parents, starting with healthier pregnancies and positive birth outcomes.
The program offers in-depth phone consultations with expectant mothers to identify potential needs. At participating OB/GYN offices and other sites that work with pregnant women, consent forms are completed to allow a Prenatal Resource Specialist to call.
Through that phone consultation, specialists can provide information and refer women to a variety of resources, regardless of socioeconomic status.
“We’re a one-stop-shop for prenatal resources that many people either don’t know about or don’t think they qualify for,” says Jenny Corley, who oversees the program. “We want to connect parents-to-be with needed services before a child is born, not after.”
The effort is just one piece of Smart Beginnings, an early childhood advocacy organization with a mission to help children enter kindergarten healthy and ready to learn. The prenatal program is run with grant money through the Virginia Department of Health.
While the program primarily serves women in Newport News and Hampton – data indicates these areas are at risk for low-birth-weight babies – they direct others to resources in their localities whenever possible.
Since beginning in 2013, SBVP has screened about 9,000 expectant mothers. Referrals to community resources are individualized and based on income, family stress, substance use, and depression or anxiety.
For some, information on childbirth classes, parenting and breastfeeding education, child care, or credible websites may be enough. Others might benefit from home visits, mental health or substance abuse counseling, access to free car seats, WIC, or smoking cessation programs.
“We’re able to establish a rapport quickly, and we are careful to never be judgmental,” Corley says. “We’ve found this approach really helps both the women and their OB/GYNs.”
The program can save valuable staff time for participating physicians, as SBVP can make needed referrals instead. The nonprofit also has identified numerous community programs and resources to streamline services and avoid duplication.
“Our patients have greatly benefitted,” reports Dr. Kathy O’Connell, an OB/GYN with Peninsula Women’s Care in Newport News. “They have assisted our patients in obtaining free car seats, housing, WIC and many other resources. We look forward to continuing to participate in a program that is so helpful to the community.”
“COVID-19 certainly raised interest in community resources needed by pregnant women, which was ever-meaningful this year to those who benefitted,” adds Kirsten Watkins, Administrative Director of Medical Education for Riverside Regional Medical Center. “Riverside has an immense appreciation for the vast support provided by Smart Beginnings and the pregnant women on the Virginia Peninsula they serve.”
The prenatal program has aided expectant mothers from all backgrounds and professions. Even women who are financially secure and outwardly “put together” may have a hidden risk factor or simply not know much about pregnancy or parenthood, Corley notes.
“We’d like to talk to every single pregnant woman out there,” she says. “We just want physicians to be aware that we’re here, ready to help.”
For more information, visit smartbeginningsvp.org or call (757) 240-2731.