Healthy Start Robeson at UNC Pembroke celebrates 25 years

Healthy Start Robeson continues to serve the community after 25 years
Healthy Start Robeson continues to serve the community after 25 years

Matthew Miles didn’t know what to expect like most first-time parents. His wife, Tiara, didn’t experience significant issues during her pregnancy. But that quickly changed during an unexpected cesarean delivery.

“Some parts of the delivery were terrifying,” Miles said. “It was really scary at times.”

Thankfully, the young couple wasn’t alone during the ordeal as experienced case managers with Healthy Start Robeson frequently visited the hospital and their home. They received professional prenatal care and––nine months later––social workers continue to perform in-home visits.

“They were there throughout the entire process,” Miles said. “They provided an extra layer of care outside of going to the OBGYN. They were by our side at the hospital and while she was recovering at home. I don’t know where we would’ve been without that level of support.”

Healthy Start Robeson, a federally funded program at UNC Pembroke, has provided resources to expecting mothers and parents across the region for over two decades. This year, the community intervention program is celebrating 25 years.

Healthy Start’s primary mission is to reduce the number of infant deaths and low-birth-weight babies in Robeson County by providing case management to females for up to 18 months after delivery. It aims to eliminate perinatal health disparities and empower communities to address the factors contributing to perinatal morbidity.

“The program has been able to build partnerships with other community programs to make a difference in the overall infant mortality rate in this community,” said Erica Little, who has served as program director since 2014. “Twenty-five years later, we are continuing to build partnerships to provide more support for families in our communities to have healthy outcomes related to pregnancy and infant care.”

Healthy Start serves an average of 600 participants a year––the highest number in recent history. Little attributes the record enrollment to the overall growth of the program, which has seen its budget more than double from $500,000 to nearly $1.2 million. They’ve also welcomed additional staff.

Little hopes to increase the number of Fatherhood Program participants. Her office provides case management and linkage to services to women who are pregnant or have a child under 18 months.

“If participants need insurance, we link them to Medicaid or provide links to medical providers,” Little said. “We offer one-on-one health education about how to stay healthy and keep their child healthy. We also offer a parenting series and other health education opportunities, including car seat safety, safe sleep techniques, CPR training and breastfeeding education.”

Little said transportation is a huge barrier to access to services in Robeson County. Healthy Start provides transportation to doctor’s appointments and other Medicaid, WIC or health-related needs.

Case managers sometimes assist with non-health-related issues, such as eviction notices, crisis response or referrals. Healthy Start is visible in the community, hosting an annual family day event and community events highlighting Infant Mortality Month in September. They also sponsor wellness events, dental clinics and other educational outreach in collaboration with local agencies, including Robeson Health Care, UNC Health Southeastern and the Robeson County Health Department.

Healthy Start Robeson is off campus at the Office for Regional Initiatives at the Carolina Commerce and Technology Center (COMTech) on Livermore Drive. For more information, call 521.6181 or visit the website.