Helping first-time families navigate the realities of parenting is the goal of the Family Spirit Parental Maternal Child Health program conducted through home visits with the Mille Lacs Band Public Health department. The program has grown in the last year due in part to the passion for public health brought by Claudia Muntifering, RN, PHN.
Claudia graduated from nursing school in 2001. She began her full-time nursing career as a public health nurse in 2002. "I have been a public health nurse ever since then," she said. "I love my job. It is my passion."
Claudia is a registered nurse and a public health nurse. While she has worn many hats in her career, she is most proud of her role as coordinator of the Maternal Child Health Program and Family Spirit Program for Mille Lacs Band Public Health.
"When I started here in November 2018, there were only four clients at first," Claudia said. "Now we are at capacity of 25 clients."
The work on the MCH program began for Claudia at the ground level by developing and building relationships with Pine County and Mille Lacs County public health teams as well as growing her already established relationships with Minnesota Public Health teams to obtain the Trifecta grant — a partnership with the Mille Lacs Band and Pine and Mille Lacs counties.
The curriculum used for the Family Spirit Parental Maternal Child Health program was developed by Johns Hopkins Center for American Indian Health. The program is broken down into 64 models that can be customized to individual client needs, Claudia explained. "There are various lessons clients can choose, such as Infant Care; Your Growing Child; Toddler Care; My Family and Me; and Healthy Living; for example," Claudia explained. "The best part for the clients is they get to choose which lessons most fit with their needs."
Claudia conducts the initial assessment of the client’s needs and what they would most like to concentrate on from the evidence-based home visiting. "The curriculum is structured to delineate everything we need to teach a growing family starting from infancy," Claudia said. "For instance, scheduling. Often times new parents/mothers have a difficult time with infants' eating and sleeping schedules. The program helps them to track daily activities by the hours — when baby sleeps, when baby eats, when baby is awake, and so on. By tracking this, the family has a vested interest and can then focus on meal times, weight, diet, sleep, and creating a schedule. They are proud of what they have learned."
After the first assessment visit, the program is turned over to the home visits. "We are very lucky here. Our Home Visit counselors are great at what they do. In District I, Renee Bayerle does the home visits; District II home visits are done by Kathy Nelson; and we have an opening in District III."
The home visit counselors have built strong relationships with the clients they serve, according to Claudia. Building relationships based on trust is key to success in the program.
On the horizon for Claudia and the Mille Lacs Band Public Health team is conducting presentations in the schools. Education is key for making good choices. "This program doesn’t tell kids they are bad. It just helps to educate them to give them the tools they need to make good choices to lower the risks of sexually transmitted diseases and teen pregnancy," Claudia said.
Also to be included in the school programing is information on where teens can find help if they need to.
She also sees mobile immunization clinics to be able to go into each district and help families with immunizations to get them compliant with all wellness checks. Also available are car seats and booster seats, car seat clinics, and pack-and-play cribs for kids.
Her ultimate goal for presentations in the schools? "There are so many health discrepancies in Native American communities. One issue leads to another issue. Truancy for instance. When kids don’t go to school, they find other things to occupy their time, which can lead to recklessness and take them down a less-than-desirable path. Education is key. If you don’t have the tools to make informed decisions, you can’t take care of yourself. If you can't take care of yourself, how can you take care of a baby? The ultimate goal is education."
The fundamental pillar of Public Health is prevention. "We are here to teach and educate with a goal of preventing a crisis situation. Clinics take a more crisis-oriented look at situations and health. Both avenues are important for the health of our communities," Claudia said.