March 9th, 2020
MANKATO — The Mankato Clinic Foundation, Greater Mankato Area United Way and Blue Earth County are partnering again in 2020 to improve community wellness through First Steps which supports healthy pregnancies and healthy babies and Next Steps which supports children from birth to age 5.
“Our goal is to ensure children in our region will have a healthy start. We began with First Steps to support pregnant women and connect them with essential resources to promote healthy pregnancies and babies. We identified a need for Next Steps and expanded our work to include families of young children. These programs promote child health and development and strengthen families,” said Elizabeth Harstad of Greater Mankato Area United Way.
First Steps is a community collaborative that connects new and expecting parents to free or low-cost services and resources. In 2019, the initiative expanded to Next Steps to better serve families with children from birth to age 5. First Steps coordinator Teresa Freitag has an office in the Mankato Clinic Obstetrics and Gynecology Department and Next Steps coordinator Meg Rialson has an office in the Mankato Clinic Children’s Health Center. Parents who receive health care services elsewhere in the region are always welcome.
The coordinators meet with expecting parents and parents of young children to help them navigate the system to access medical, county and community resources. They support families in addressing medical insurance, housing, hunger, poverty, domestic violence, chemical dependency, mental health, teen parenting and daycare. First Steps and Next Steps wrap families in support with a team of home visiting nurses, parent educators and crisis counselors.
This initiative is more critical than ever. In 2019, First Steps coordinator Teresa Freitag carried an average caseload of 182 clients. There has been an increase in methamphetamine, cocaine and heroin use during pregnancy and a rise in teen pregnancies among 14-17-year-old girls.
“We see expecting mothers and families of young children who are in need of community support. With First Steps and Next Steps located in our clinic, we have someone to help our families who are struggling. Through this initiative, we can improve the health and well-being of our youngest children,” Mankato Clinic pediatrician, Katie Smentek, MD, said.
In 2020, First Steps/Next Steps will receive $35,000 from the Mankato Clinic Foundation, $92,500 from the Greater Mankato Area United Way and fiscal and in-kind support from Blue Earth County Public Health.