MILWAUKEE — When the pandemic hit, it threw a curveball to expecting mothers, adding another barrier to many finding health care.
Nyrie Melendez remembers finding out she was pregnant on Father's Day, during the height of the pandemic.
"I was too emotional really, but I was surprised at the same time," said Melendez. "Most times I was scared to come to the hospital because of the COVID."
Soon after, Melendez connected with the maternal health team at Ascension Saint Joseph Hospital in Milwaukee.
They recently started doing home visits for those who face barriers to getting to their appointments. Team leaders said patients revealed childcare and transportation were the most common challenges to getting care. The pandemic and concern about the virus spreading added another layer.
Community health worker and patient navigator Shar Crawford has been a huge part of what makes this outreach successful. She conducts home visits herself with a midwife to ensure every mother has what she needs.
"After we started going to the patient's home, doing blood pressure checks and the belly checks and things like that, maybe after two times, guess what we found out? They would come in. They would come in because they found a comfort point somewhere," Crawford said.
To further help mothers, St. Joe's started offering a special waiting room for kids as well as coordinating rides.
"I really appreciate it because like I said before, I really didn't have anything or nobody. It was just me lost with a baby basically," said Melendez.
She added that Shar and the team would help her with baby clothes, diapers, and cheering her up when she felt down.
Alli McNeil, director of solidarity with Ascension, said the team has reached hundreds of women.
"Every mom that Shar and her partner have touched in their life have had better outcomes because of it," McNeil said.
Since the work began, McNeil said they are seeing shorter stays in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, babies are born healthier, and moms are doing better.
"We're living the mission of our organization by doing this work. It's really meant to help serve the poorest and the most vulnerable out there, and that's what we get to do every day," said McNeil.
The work is focused on listening to patients and building trust. It can be hard and require persistence, but Crawford seemed unfazed. She shared multiple stories about chatting up strangers, finding out they were pregnant without a provider, and connecting them with the St. Joe's team, often sharing her phone number.
"It's time-consuming, but I just love it because why not? This is our community. If we don't do it, who will," Crawford said.
McNeil said this program has been so impactful, they are looking at replicating it at their facilities across the country, including Michigan, Florida, and Texas.
To connect with St. Joe's maternal health team, call (414) 447-2887.