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'Birth bus' will deliver prenatal care in low-income areas

The Barefoot Birth bus will travel to low-income areas, where licensed midwives can help pregnant women receive prenatal care and sign up for Medicaid.
Published Jun. 21, 2013

From the outside, it looks like nothing more than an old, repainted bloodmobile.

But the bus parked in Charlie Rae Young's Brandon front yard is a project in the making.

Young, owner of Barefoot Birth pregnancy support services, will open Tampa's first mobile prenatal care unit in October, traveling to low-income neighborhoods in west Tampa, south St. Petersburg and east Hillsborough County, where women sometimes lack the resources to seek in-office obstetric care.

Inside what Young calls the Barefoot Birth bus, licensed midwives will provide general prenatal checkups, including bimonthly examinations and lab work.

Staff will help women register for Medicaid, prepare for hospital births and, in cases where additional treatment is needed, get transportation to specialist appointments.

While licensed midwives are not doctors, they provide the same basic services as OB-GYNs for women with low-risk pregnancies, said Young, 25.

"Women in at-risk communities want to have really good care, but sometimes other things in their lives are higher on their priority lists, like going to work to make an income or finding food to eat," she said. "We want to give these women easier access to quality care."

Since 2010, Young has helped deliver more than 225 babies as a doula and midwife's assistant. In August, she will graduate from the Florida School for Traditional Midwifery and sit for the midwifery boards to receive her independent state license.

Barefoot, a company she founded with friend Megan D'Arazio, is already known within the Tampa Bay natural birth community for providing doula services, birth photography, independent childbirth education, placenta encapsulation and prenatal massage.

"We have a lot of customers that are Barefoot clients and we love what they are doing now to extend the opportunity to another section of the population to get more personalized care," said Melane Nelson, owner of Growing Up, a natural products store in St. Petersburg.

Young does not know of anything like the Barefoot bus operating in the United States. The idea originated after she saw a mobile immunizations clinic outside the Brandon area Family Support and Resource Center. As a midwifery assistant at Lakeland Midwifery Care Inc., she saw a need to fill.

"The big issue we see is that women don't have transportation or child care for their others kids, which sometimes leads to no prenatal care at all," Young said. "This can lead to miscarriages and other complications, which otherwise could be avoided. I thought why not take midwifery on the road."

Young purchased the Barefoot bus for $5,500 after seeing it advertised on Craigslist. The prior owner wanted to turn it into a party bus but fell short on funds. Young told him her idea, so he gave her a good price, she said.

After a couple of months' work, the interior renovations are complete, but a fundraiser is under way to wrap the now solid white exterior. Barefoot started an indiegogo.com campaign to raise $10,000 for this and needed supplies. Donations neared $3,000 Friday afternoon. Prizes available to contributors include everything from stickers, to concierge doula services and free prenatal massage. For $2,000, sponsors can get their business name printed on the wrap.

Dana McGrady, a client of Young's, has donated to the cause. Young assisted with the delivery of her second daughter in December 2012.

"Charlie is very good at what she does," McGrady said. "I think it's amazing what she and all the girls at Barefoot are doing to make services like theirs more accessible."

Young said the Barefoot bus will park twice a month in designated communities, most likely in front of a school or church. She or another midwife and two assistants will staff the vehicle. They plan to target women who would otherwise have to travel to their county health services department or another clinic that accepts Medicaid. To advertise when and where the bus will stop, Young will work with the Healthy Start Coalition. Local birthing and child-rearing groups will also help spread the word.

"By helping and empowering more women, the Barefoot bus will make women and their families stronger," said Angela Dunkley, co-founder of Tampa Bay Babywearing. "With so many people unemployed and barely making ends meet, this is one steppingstone to a better future for families in need. So, we definitely want our name on that bus."

To get your name on the bus or learn more, visit indiegogo.com/projects/hush-that-fuss-everybody-get-on-the-barefoot-bus.

Sarah Whitman can be reached at hillsnews@tampabay.com.

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