See how local program pairs young expectant mothers with personal nurses

Published 12:40 am Sunday, March 20, 2022

Jessica Garcia was a 16-year-old student at Bridge City High School when Nurse-Family Partnership spoke to her class.

Pregnant and scared, she listened as representatives from the organization shared their mission to assist first-time mothers.

“I had a lot of concerns with everything,” Garcia said. “My childhood was — well — as best as it could have been, but a big part of me was not repeating the same cycle.”

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Garcia always wanted to be a nurse, but it was almost an unattainable goal.

She was hanging around a rough crowd and getting into trouble. She wasn’t going to get to her goals on her own.

In preparation of her now-12-year-old daughter’s birth, Garcia enrolled in Nurse-Family Partnership, where she was assigned a personal nurse. But while in the program, she gained more than just help with her pregnancy. Instead, she found the motivation to change her life.

“The nurse showed me the path I was on wasn’t going to bring me where I wanted to be in life,” she said. “She helped me get on the right path.”

Garcia described her personal nurse as a role model.

“She was a very positive person, and at the time I didn’t have much of that in my little support system,” Garcia said. “She was the most positive person in my life. The biggest thing she did was make me feel super confident as a mom. I never had to question if she was judging me.”

As she entered nursing school, Garcia kept the program in the back of her mind. Working for the program required a bachelor’s degree and certain certifications. And the moment she reached the criteria, Garcia applied.

Two years later, the Orange County resident is one of the personal Nurse-Family Partnership nurses.

“When they came (to the school), that was the catalyst,” she said.

Now an international program, NFP began in the 1970s with three clinical research trials.

“They got really, really good results,” said Karla Quigley, nurse supervisor for the Port Arthur-based branch that services Jefferson, Orange, Hardin and Chambers counties. “The did little twists each time. In 1989, they actually started enrolling people in what’s now the program.”

Funded through the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, NFP is a prevention program that works with first-time mothers through their pregnancy and the first two years of their child’s life.

The service is free to any woman of any age that would qualify for Medicaid or The Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program.

First-time mothers can include women who were previously pregnant and had a miscarriage, lost their infant within 30 days or opted for adoption.

“They never had a chance to be a momma,” Quigley said.

Expectant mothers choose a personal nurse they can call or text when needed. The nurses, who carry about 25 patients at all times, on average visit with the women for an hour and a half every other week.

“It could be more or less,” Quigley said. “We base it on what they need. If life is getting better for them and they’re doing great, we can back off and do it monthly.”

The mission is to teach clients how to be good mothers in any way necessary.

“We laugh about it because in our funding stuff it asks what services we provide,” the supervisor said. “I wouldn’t know how to begin. In that visit, our nurse will morph into whatever that mom needs her to be — whether it’s a nurse, a counselor, a cheerleader. We become whatever they need us to be.”

NFP nurses provide patients with lessons on fire safety, baby proofing the house, and other topics. And they’ll provide car seats, high chairs and baby gates to mothers in need.

All five nurses are child passenger safety technicians, certified to teach about and install car seats.

Their patients are predominantly teenage or young mothers. A majority of their referrals come from Hope Women’s Resource Clinic in Beaumont and Birthright of Orange. In addition, NFP partners with Port Arthur, Vidor and Beaumont independent school districts.

“That’s always a big push, we want them to finish school,” Quigley said. “But to a 15 or 16 year old, that’s a long way.”

Those interested in enrolling in the program can call 409-983-8886 or visit NurseFamilyPartnership.org.

In addition, a video documentary by The New Yorker Magazine called “Lone Star Nurse” is available on Amazon Prime. Filmed in 2015, the video follows Nurse-Family Partnership in Port Arthur. The city was selected out of 256 locations.

“I feel like Nurse-Family Partnership is a really good start as far as getting involved in finding resources and making your way through it,” Garcia said. “Your first pregnancy is a very, very scary time. Having someone to have your back is really good.”