ELKHART — Many women walk through the doors of 1400 Hudson St. every week. Each of them comes from a different home, a different family situation. But they all have two things in common — they are considered “low-income” and they are pregnant.
Marti Conrad, supervisor of the Elkhart County Health Department’s Healthy Beginnings program, and Yuki Gilbert, a Healthy Beginnings case manager, refer to the women as “our moms.”
“A large percentage of our moms are single,” Conrad said. “They may be living with the father of their baby, or they may have a shaky relationship with the father of their baby. But oftentimes, they are facing it (pregnancy) alone.”
At the Healthy Beginnings building in Elkhart, and at the office in Goshen, women can get a pregnancy test. They can get signed up for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) — a federal assistance program that gives vouchers for nutritional food and baby formula. They can even get help signing up for Medicaid.
Women can talk to Healthy Beginnings staff — “a totally objective source of support,” according to Gilbert — about the needs of their family, and staff can refer them to other programs that may provide for their needs outside of their pregnancy.
Women can take breast-feeding classes and get a recommendation about doctors to see locally, based on their specific needs. Their children can get their teeth cleaned and checked at the dental clinic at the Elkhart location.
The Healthy Beginnings program has been around for a long time, Conrad said, but it won a state award in December for its efforts to improve health care access for local women.
Conrad and her staff have improved Healthy Beginnings in recent years by communicating with clients through texting.
“A lot of our moms, that’s how they communicate,” Conrad said. “Many of them have unlimited texting, but they may not have minutes. They can text right into our emails, and we can answer.”
The moms text questions, and case workers can remind them to go to doctor’s appointments or to take prenatal vitamins. But the text system can be fun, too.
“A lot of times it’s good news — ‘I had my ultrasound, I’m having a girl!’” Conrad said, smiling. “So it’s nice to be able to be in contact with the moms that way.”
The Healthy Beginnings staff “tags along” with the mom throughout her pregnancy and for the first four months of her infant’s life.
“At four months, they are pretty good to go,” Conrad said. “But if a mom is struggling, we can refer her to other programs.”
Conrad sees Healthy Beginnings as an important program because the women and children helped “are our future,” she said.
Plus, she got WIC assistance when she was pregnant with her son, and as she says, “I know what it’s like to be young, poor and unexpectedly pregnant.”
The program helps about 1,000 women each year. For more information about Healthy Beginnings or to find out if you qualify for services, call 522-0104 in Elkhart, or 535-6765 in Goshen.
The Goshen Healthy Beginnings office is at 117 N. 2nd St.