By Patrick Winderl
The Hill County Health Department is expected to lose state funding for a home-based care program.
The Montana Initiative for the Abatement of Mortality in Infants, or MIAMI program, is slated to lose $15,000 in funding as the state deals with a projected $200 million or more budget deficit next year, according to Hill County Health Department director of nursing Cindy Smith.
The program provides at- home visits for pregnant and nursing mothers. Jamie Smith, a registered nurse for the Hill County Health Department, visits between 30 and 50 patients a year. The program has enough money to operate until the end of the fiscal year in June, but has been placed on a list to be scrapped in an effort to balance the state budget.
"People take for granted all of the things that health services does," Cindy Smith said Monday. "Everybody wants it, but no one wants to pay for it."
The Hill County Health Department learned about the funding cut at a Children's Forum meeting on Nov. 19 at the Human Resources Development Council. At the meeting, Steve Yeakel, executive director for the Montana Council for Mental and Child Health, said the MIAMI program was "on the chopping block," Jamie Smith said.
The meeting was attended by state Rep. John Musgrove, D-Havre, County Commissioner Kathy Bessette, and representatives from Child Protective Services, Head Start and the Hill County Family Support Coalition.
The group discussed community health issues, including the MIAMI program.
"We just tried to educate everyone as to the importance of our programs," Jamie Smith said. "We tried to demonstrate to Musgrove the damage that would be done by cutting funding. Really, it is not a very expensive program."
Smith also said that eliminating the program will negatively affect low-income families.
"The high-risk patients will not receive essential education and supervision," she said. "The program gives me the ability to intervene in situations of domestic violence, and child abuse and neglect. "
"We try to work with families in many different areas. We try to give them that extra push in the right direction. I can't emphasize enough how important this program is to saving babies' lives. I can't say enough good things about it," she said.
Hill County has an infant mortality rate lower than the statewide average. In Hill County, six out of every 1,000 infants die from birth-related complications, as opposed to seven out of 1,000 statewide.
"This is going to eliminate the referral network," Cindy Smith said. "This program was the added link between these people and the appropriate care. Even one infant death is just too much for a community this small."
According to the Hill County Health Profile, released by the Health Department in September, women in Hill County are less likely to receive prenatal care than women in the rest of the state.
According to the profile, in Hill County, 72.3 percent of pregnant women receive some form of prenatal care in the first trimester. The statewide percentage is 82.5. A total of 60.3 percent of pregnant women in Hill County receive care that meets the state Department of Public Health and Human Services' standards for being classified as adequate. Statewide, the percentage is 72.6 percent.
According to the profile, adequate is defined as early and continuous prenatal care.
The percentage of infants in Hill County with low birthweight was identical to the rest of the state at 6.5 percent.