Florida Healthy Start is celebrating 30 years of helping to provide our state’s babies a positive path to a great future.
Let’s take a quick look back. In 1991, the concept of Healthy Start Coalitions and services was championed by Gov. Lawton Chiles and First Lady Rhea Chiles to address the alarming rates of infant mortality and precariously low birth weights in Florida, and also to remove systemic barriers to prenatal and early childhood health care.
As grandparents of a low-birthweight grandson, Lawton IV, the Chiles grandparents saw first-hand the need for an investment in quality maternal health services to improve the futures of all newborns.
Today, Florida’s 32 regional Healthy Start Coalitions are responsible for working within a coordinated system of care across the state, providing vital health education and support services for pregnant women and young children up to age three and their families
What a difference Healthy Start has made. Since we launched 30 years ago, more than 6.6 million babies have been born in Florida. We are thrilled to report that recently released infant mortality data for Florida shows Florida has seen more than a 34 percent reduction of infant mortality.
To put it another way, if Florida’s infant mortality rate today was the same as 30 years ago, 650 more babies would have died last year alone — that’s equal to 31 kindergarten classes.
By using a simple universal screening assessment, we’re able to identify risks faced by expectant mothers and newborns and respond to those risks with a variety of resources. The data tells a great story of success:
- 136,778 pregnant women completed the universal risk screening, and 198,489 infants were screened out of 207,730 infants born.
- More than 129,000 pregnant women and 84,000 babies, and their families received a service from Healthy Start in any of our programs.
And for the moms and babies who received Healthy Start home services as designed:
- 90% of babies were born full term
- Infant mortality rate was 2.77 per 1,000 live births
- 100% were screened for depression
- 84% of mothers who smoked quit or reduced their use
- 87% kept their postpartum doctor visits
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These statistics represent dramatic improvement in the health of Florida moms and babies — a huge impact, particularly when considering the enormous resources that are needed to care for moms and babies with complex health challenges.
Here’s our direct message: If you’re expecting a baby, we want to help you achieve a healthy pregnancy and to deliver a healthy baby who has a great beginning to a healthy life!
Our programs focus on three main areas of impact:
- A reduction in the occurrence of infant deaths
- A reduction in the number of low birth weight and preterm births
- An improvement in maternal and child health developmental outcomes
Throughout the state, Healthy Start Coalitions work tirelessly with local partners to provide services that have a positive impact on birth outcomes.
We’re so proud of the critical investments in maternal and infant health that have been made in Florida. Prevention is the best medicine, at every stage of life. Florida’s pioneering Healthy Start program is proof positive that quality care during pregnancy and the early years of life not only saves lives, but is the most cost effective investment for avoiding later costs. Both emotionally and economically, Healthy Start is a homegrown Florida success story. For access to Florida Healthy Start information, visit https://www.healthystartflorida.com/
Cathy Timuta is CEO and Thelisha Thomas is Chair of the Board of the Florida Association of Healthy Start Coalitions.