Photo: Nurses from The Cooperative's Family Connects NJ program make a home visit in Gloucester County
Free at-home visits from a specially trained nurse are now available for newborns and their mothers in five counties in New Jersey, state officials announced this week.
The visits are part of the Family Connects NJ program, which recently launched to offer support for families and newborns within two weeks of their deliveries.
Officials are implementing the initiative in phases. The program began offering the nurse visits in Cumberland, Gloucester, Mercer, Middlesex and Essex counties on Jan. 15, officials said. Participation is voluntary.
In addition to mothers who gave birth, those eligible for the program include adoptive parents and parents who experienced a stillbirth, officials said. It is also open to relatives or others who take on the responsibility of caring for a newborn.
“It’s such an emotional and exciting time when you first bring your newborn home, but it can also be quite chaotic and overwhelming,” said state Department of Children and Families Commissioner Christine Norbut Beyer.
“To have a specialized nurse provide that personalized attention and care during those first couple of weeks postpartum — in the comfort of the family’s home — is truly an incredible way for us to help facilitate the health and overall wellbeing of both moms and newborns,” she said.
A nurse will check the baby’s well-being and the mother’s physical and mental health during the home visits. The nurse will also provide postpartum education, feeding and sleeping tips and may connect the family to community programs, including food assistance and doulas.
The launch comes after Gov. Phil Murphy signed legislation to create a statewide, universal home visitation program for newborns in July 2021.
New Jersey is the second state to launch a program, officials said. Oregon was the first.
Officials said the goal is to expand the program to additional counties over the next few years, until it is fully implemented statewide.
A universal home visitation program was a key recommendation of First Lady Tammy Murphy’s Nurture NJ Maternal and Infant Health Strategic Plan, which aims to reduce maternal mortality rates and eliminate racial disparities in the state.
Infant deaths are at a record low in the state, according to federal data. But, a Black baby is nearly three times more likely than a white baby to die before his or her first birthday.
Black mothers also continue to face high mortality rates, as outlined in a Star-Ledger editorial last month.
More than 50% of maternal deaths occur after childbirth, officials said. The visits are part of an effort to catch complications as early as possible.
State Senate Majority Leader Teresa Ruiz, D-Essex, said she sponsored the bill to create the program based on her own experience with a lactation nurse who visited her home after Ruiz had her daughter.
“The time spent with her changed my whole outlook,” Ruiz said. “She answered my questions and gave me the reassurance I needed as a first-time mother.”
The program is free to all families, regardless of income, insurance or immigration status. More than 50 families have signed up for a nurse visit through the online interest form, officials said.
Southern New Jersey Perinatal Cooperative, Central Jersey Family Health Consortium and the Partnership for Maternal & Child Health of Northern New Jersey are the organizations currently contracted to offer nursing services for the program in the first five counties.