By Greg Gelpi
Southern Regional Medical Center is providing comprehensive care to mothers and newborn children in hopes of preventing later health problems.
The hospital recently opened an office of the federal program Women, Infants and Children so mothers can register for WIC services immediately after giving birth.
In its first six months, the collaboration has served more than 1,000 mothers and their infants.
Adding to the stress of giving birth to a premature baby, Crystal Spriggs said she didn't know how she could afford to care for her baby, Jacob, until SRMC nurses told her about the WIC program.
"They came to me and asked if I was interested," Spriggs said. "I had never heard of it before."
The program provides vouchers for mothers to purchase iron-enriched foods and formula. Spriggs' two-month old was born a month early, so he needs special iron-fortified formula, she said. The formula costs $21 a can normally, but is free with the WIC voucher.
"I was worried about it at first," Spriggs said. "I had the vouchers before I left."
Along with formula, she can purchase other food items, like milk, eggs and cheese.
"It's really easy, not embarrassing," Spriggs said. "It's real fast. It's real convenient."
Undergoing surgery while she was pregnant induced premature labor, she said. Her son was born with a fast heartbeat and other complications, but is now doing fine.
WIC is a supplemental feeding program that provides nutrients during "critical periods of growth," Kathy Wilson, Clayton County Board of Health Nutrition Services director, said.
On average, WIC provides about $40 to $60 a month for food for each mother and child. The care helps prevent infant diseases, which could result in medical costs of $6,000 to $10,000 for each hospital stay.
"We could experience a high incidence of childhood diseases" if infants are malnourished, she said.
Wilson said that expectant mothers are screened for nutritional and financial needs before taking part in the program.
The satellite office at SRMC is part of the hospital's "seamless services," said Nancy Banister, a registered nurse with the WIC office. The hospital has devised its services so that patients are covered with no gaps in medical coverage.
"WIC is a very comprehensive program," Banister said. "In addition to the food we give, we also give the nutritional message."
The satellite office offers referrals to a wide array of other services for new and expecting mothers as well, she said. Among them are teen pregnancy services, temporary aid for needy families, access to food stamps, immunizations and breastfeeding instruction.
Although the number of births is down nationwide, the birthrate in Clayton County is up, Banister said. About 475 children are born each month in the county with about 8,000 children total on WIC.
WIC services are also available at the Department of Family and Children Services, Forest Park Health Center and Tara Health Center.
The satellite office at SRMC is a coordinated effort between Southern Regional's Women's Life Center and Clayton County Board of Health.