Providing Holistic Pediatric Care: HealthySteps at Hackensack Meridian Health

The Partnership for Maternal and Child Health of Northern New Jersey works closely with our hospital members to promote healthy pregnancy and childhood development. The Partnership staff recently had the opportunity to meet with Dr. Judy Aschner, Chair of Pediatrics; Physician-in-Chief, Joseph M. Sanzari Children’s Hospital at Hackensack University Medical Center to learn how Hackensack Meridian Health (HMH) is transforming their pediatric care by implementing the HealthySteps initiative.

HealthySteps is a nationally recognized care model that provides wrap-around services for the parents and the child to promote strong early childhood development and care. The program, for children ages zero – three, utilizes a dedicated social worker onsite who provides parenting support, referrals to free community programs, appointment follow-up, and practical resources, including transportation and nutrition assistance. The social worker, who works closely with the physician, establishes a strong bond with the family and becomes a trusted source of information.

Melissa Mittelholzer, Stefani Moon, and Sarah Muller-Robbins from the Partnership enjoy a facility tour from Christina Rua-Pozo and Dr. Jane Suhyoung Kim.

“HealhtySteps is revolutionizing how we approach pediatric care – from our residents to our most seasoned clinicians,” stated Dr. Judy Aschner. “A child’s health is shaped by their environment. By providing these comprehensive services including breastfeeding support, child safety advice, advice on sleep training, targeted preventive care, and more, we are promoting strong mental and physical development for the child.”

Hackensack Meridian Health is the first healthcare organization to implement HealthySteps in New Jersey. Through generous grants from The Burke Foundation, The Nicholson Foundation, and the Turrell Fund, as well as in-kind support from HMH, the hospital system implemented the program at the Pediatric Academic Practice/Pediatric Continuity Program in Hackensack, the Jane H. Booker Family Health Center in Neptune, and HMH Group Pediatrics in Asbury Park and Neptune.

Dr. Timothy Watkins (R) shares the impact of the HealthySteps program with the Partnership staff.

Since the HMH program launched in 2020, the participation rates and feedback from the families have been overwhelmingly positive. On average, 370 families participate in the program monthly through the Hackensack office, with 40 – 50 families receiving the most intensive support. In the last 3 months of 2021, over 1200 families with children under age 4 received HealthySteps services at the four HMH pediatric practices. Over 400 families received direct support from the HealthySteps specialist and referrals for home visitation service, lactation support, financial assistance, housing and transportation assistance, early intervention services, and referrals for maternal depression, domestic violence, and job training.

Christina Rua-Pozo, LCSW, HealthySteps Specialist at the Bergen County location, shared what makes the program successful. “This initiative fosters trusting relationships with the families. Sometimes a parent has a general health question, needs someone to listen, or needs validation that they are providing the best care for their child. Because of this trust, we can work together to prevent a health crisis.”

Providing free books is one of the ways HealthySteps promotes early childhood development.

Innovative programs like HealthySteps improve health outcomes by providing critical support within the physician’s office and direct referrals to other community resources to break down the barriers to care. Partnership staff Stefani Moon, Program Manager for the Early Childhood Specialist Initiative, and Melissa Mittelholzer, Program Coordinator for the Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention and Healthy Homes Program, shared referral information about ancillary services the Partnership provides with the Hackensack HealthySteps team.

The HealthySteps program is available to all families with children under age 4 at the following Hackensack Meridian Health locations: the Pediatric Academic Practice: 385 Prospect Ave in Hackensack, the Jane H. Booker Family Health Center in Neptune City, HMH Asbury Park Pediatrics in Asbury Park, and HMH Pediatrics in Neptune.

Hackensack Meridian Health’s goal is to spread this model of interprofessional pediatric and behavioral health care throughout their network and beyond to pediatric practices throughout New Jersey. To learn more about the Zero To Three HealthySteps program, visit www.zerotothree.org.

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