Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Does letter-writing make a difference?

If we're friends on Facebook or you follow me on Twitter, you know how angry I was to hear that BC is significantly cutting nurse visits to new moms and their babies.

My interest in this cause is a personal one. The nurse who visited me and my son our first full day home from the hospital came just in the nick of time. We'd had a terrible night of him screaming at me because I had no milk. She helped me immensely in figuring out the whole breastfeeding thing when I was a sleep-deprived, emotional mess.

Not only that, but Cara followed up with me and told me she would come back and visit any time I needed her to. A lucky coincidence was she ended up being one of the nurses who came to the mom and baby drop-in session at the local community centre. Eventually, I was diagnosed with postpartum depression (PPD). Though it wasn't caught in that home visit (I was good at hiding it), being able to talk to Cara was critical to my feeling I was able to open up to my family doctor about the challenges I was having.

Cara was a huge support to us and I don't think I could ever thank her enough. I'm worried that these cuts will mean women give up on breastfeeding and wait longer than they need to to get the help they need for PPD.

Time to act

So with all this in mind, I looked to find out what I could do. I tweeted a CBC radio show that asked for people's reactions. I found out a Facebook group had been created. Supporters of the nurse visit program were encouraged to write to the premier and their MLA, so I wrote a letter telling them my story. I added Minister of Children and Family Development Mary McNeil and NDP critic Claire McNeil to the list for good measure.

So far? Only one form response from the premier's office.

The premier's office response

"Thank you for your email regarding the Healthy Start program. We appreciate the time you have taken to express your views on the subject. As you are aware, government is reviewing the perinatal and child public health services offered by public health nurses, and other care providers, across the province as a component of the Healthy Start pillar of the Healthy Families BC strategy. Our focus is to support all mothers and babies in having a healthy pregnancy, giving all children a good start in life and supporting a healthy future.

As part of the overall Healthy Start program, which is available to all mothers, government is introducing the Nurse-Family Partnership (NFP). This program will offer more intensive care, time and resources to low income, young, first time mothers from second trimester through to when their baby is two years of age. Evidence clearly shows that it is the only nurse home visiting program with a wide and varied range of strong positive outcomes for mothers and children. (emphasis mine - Lori)

Government has a responsibility to make sure public health resources are used effectively to support all families with ongoing or episodic care needs- including those who would benefit the most from intensive follow up. We want to assure you the Minister of Health and his staff are working closely with health authorities, physicians and public health nurses to help ensure the program has no unintended impacts.

Thank you again for being in touch. We are always looking for ways to improve programs and policies and your feedback helps us in that process."

My response
In other words, they likely read the subject line of my letter and nothing else. They told me nothing new and they didn't respond to my concerns, namely, how will they ensure that more women don't give up on breastfeeding, or let their PPD go undiagnosed and untreated.

The writer emphasized the "wide and varied range of strong positive outcomes for mothers and children" in the home visit program. So if there are such positive results, how can this be the right place to make cuts? They didn't say.

So I basically feel like writing my letter and actually giving a shit was a giant waste of my time.

Where do I go from here?

What are my options now?

1. Give up.
2. Respond to their letter and call them on not answering my questions.
3. Find other means of making my voice heard - no idea what these are.

Do mothers need to occupy something, perhaps the premier's office? I'm tired and I'm running out of ideas. I want someone to tell me what to do.

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