Members in Action Case Study: Healthy Beginnings

Christiana Care Health System | Newark, Del.


About eight out of 1,000 babies born in Delaware die before their first birthday, compared with a national rate of about six out of 1,000. To reduce the rate of premature births and infant mortality, Christiana Care Health System’s Healthy Beginnings program, in partnership with the Delaware Division of Public Health, brings together preconception care, which identifies and addresses risks to future pregnancy; pregnancy planning to guide women through the critical first steps that can set the stage for a healthy pregnancy; and prenatal care that promotes the well-being of mother and baby from conception to childbirth.

Christiana Care works with a citywide team of health ambassadors in partnership with local community centers, Henrietta Johnson Medical Center, and Westside Family Healthcare to connect pregnant women and new parents to health care (including future family planning and contraception), social services, education and home health visiting programs. Each year since 2013, Christiana Care and community partners have hosted an educational community baby shower with topics ranging from the benefits of breastfeeding to the importance of safe sleep habits for infants, and donated gifts and prizes for participants, including breast pumps and baby clothes. Christiana Care’s Pediatrics Program partners with Delaware Health and Social Services in the Child Development Watch program to provide early intervention services, enhance the development of infants and toddlers with disabilities or developmental delays, and enhance the capacity of their families to meet the needs of their young children.

Books are a staple in Christiana Care’s pediatrics practices, and staff at Christiana Care’s Rocco A. Abessinio Family Wilmington Health Center encourages reading at every visit. As part of the health system’s Healthy Babies Begin Here project, parents receive a gift pack including basic baby supplies and a book. Christiana Care is a site for the Reach Out and Read program, a national nonprofit organization that gives young children a foundation for success by incorporating books into pediatric care and encourages parents or caregivers to read aloud to children. During orientation, all Christiana Care Med-Peds residents participate in a poverty simulation, a guided experience designed to simulate the challenges of living with limited resources and help residents to better understand and empathize with Christiana Care patients’ everyday stressors.

A team of social workers helps connect Healthy Beginnings participants to community programs and resources to meet their family’s unique needs. The program also includes a legal partnership, with attorneys in the health center to help parents with issues such as domestic violence or working with landlords to mitigate housing challenges. Meanwhile, because many patients in the program live in a food desert, social workers can connect them with an urban garden program where they can pick up fresh vegetables.

“This isn’t just about medical care – it’s also about the social determinants of the health of a family,” says Matthew Hoffman, M.D., chair of obstetrics and gynecology. “Rather than just delving into medical issues, we want to address nutrition, mental health, smoking cessation, and more. We’re interested in wrapping around the family to help them on a healthy life course.”

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