New program provides incentives for better baby health

MEDFORD—A mother with an infant. A young woman expecting her first child. The top concern for each of them: How can I give my baby the best possible start for a healthy life?

To help provide answers to that question, Jackson Care Connect (JCC) has launched Starting Strong, an innovative program that encourages its members who are pregnant or have recently delivered to take the right steps to ensure their baby’s health.

Jackson Care Connect, a Coordinated Care Organization that coordinates Oregon Health Plan (Medicaid) services for its members, will provide vouchers through community partner organizations to women taking healthy actions such as:

  • Attending prenatal care and dental appointments
  • Bringing her baby to well-child check-ups
  • Attending childbirth preparation, parenting, nutrition or diabetes management classes
  • Keeping appointments with social workers, counselors and WIC

The vouchers may be spent at the new Starting Strong store for baby supplies such as diapers, diaper bags and onesies. The vouchers can also be saved up for more costly items, such as car seats and high chairs.

The Starting Strong store is located at 702 W. Main Street in Medford, across the street from the Rogue Valley Family YMCA. Effective March 6, 2015, it is open Tuesdays from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. and Thursdays from noon to 6 p.m.

The healthy actions that earn vouchers are those that are proven to have a positive impact on the health of both mother and child, says Leah Bernard, MD, a perinatologist (high risk pregnancy specialist) with Asante Physician Partners.

“Controlling existing medical conditions such as high blood pressure and diabetes is important to avoid serious complications in pregnancy,” Dr. Bernard says.

If a woman has not had regular medical care before she becomes pregnant, underlying health issues that could threaten her or her baby’s health can be diagnosed and addressed during prenatal visits.

Compared to mothers receiving prenatal care, babies born to mothers who do not get prenatal care are three times more likely to be born with a low birth weight and five times more likely to die, according to the March of Dimes Prematurity Research Center at Stanford University.

“If a woman can carry her baby to full term, the baby has a much better chance of being born healthy,” Dr. Bernard explains. “In the last trimester, the brain is developing at an incredible rate, needed body fat is stored, and lungs continue to mature even into the last weeks of gestation.”

“Regular visits to the doctor are important to keep babies healthy,” says Matt Hough, MD, a Medford pediatrician with Southern Oregon Pediatrics and medical director for Jackson Care Connect. “Visits allow us to spot problems early and head off medical crises.”

The Oregon Health Plan covers the cost of prenatal and well-child visits, but not all women on OHP go in for care. The Starting Strong voucher program is an incentive to get expectant Jackson Care Connect members to get ongoing care before and after the baby’s birth.

“Coordinated Care Organizations (CCOs) play a unique role in transforming Oregon’s health care,” says Heidi Hill, Jackson Care Connect community engagement coordinator. “We are encouraged to innovate with pilot programs that can lead to better health outcomes and healthier communities.”

All three Jackson County CCOs—Jackson Care Connect, AllCare and Primary Health—completed a community health assessment together in 2014. From that assessment, the Jackson Care Connect Community Advisory Council developed a health improvement plan that placed at the top of its list of priorities improving healthy birth outcomes, including reduction of substance use during pregnancy.

“We thought a program like Starting Strong would encourage pregnant women to get ongoing health care from their primary care provider by reinforcing them for taking those healthy actions,” says Jean Atalla, co-chair of the advisory council.

Starting Strong is supported by many community partners that share a goal of improving health outcomes for new and expectant mothers and their babies.

Childbirth and parenting classes will be available at the Starting Strong store beginning later this year, For more information about Starting Strong, and a list of community partners where women may receive vouchers, visit

Appendix A: Well Child Visit Schedule (PDF)

Appendix B: Starting Strong Community Partners (PDF)

Appendix C: NICU Charges (PDF)

Appendix D: Jackson County Birth Rate (PDF)

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