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I recently read the article on August 1, 2018 in the Casper Star-Tribune entitled ‘Health report shows Natrona County lagging behind on care for expecting mothers.’ That article moved me to write this editorial. I am the President of the Healthy Birth and Infant Brains Foundation, a public charity here in Casper designed to assist with the issues raised in the article.

I am the grandson of Rodney Kinskey, a Casper resident and entrepreneur and civic leader going back to the 1960s. The Kinskey family has long been aware of the importance of prenatal health in maximizing outcomes for children in Natrona County and Wyoming generally. That’s why they, along with their partners, including but not limited to the Ellbogen Foundation, started the public charity known as the Healthy Birth and Infant Brains Foundation in 2014.

The Foundation is designed to help ensure that pregnant mothers are getting the care and education necessary to give their children the best possible start in life. Our mission is to improve birth outcomes, period. Pregnancy is the most important time for the brain development of children. Early intervention and prevention has wide-ranging benefits such as avoiding environmentally-caused learning disabilities. It helps performance in school. It helps with future employment. It is a boon to society in general. We believe it is the most cost-effective use of time and money to fight poverty and improve educational outcomes.

Recent data from the Wyoming Kids Count report, highlighted in the Casper Star Tribune’s article this week, made it clear that our mission is timely and essential. The data showed that babies in Natrona County are doing worse than the state average in prematurity and low birth weight. Babies that are born early and/or at a low weight are more likely to have lifelong health and learning problems. In addition, these births can cost almost ten times as much as full-term births.

To achieve our mission to maximize birth outcomes, the Foundation has started the Early Kincare Program and has recently partnered with the Casper Natrona Department of Health by providing a grant to expand their evidence-based home-visiting program, and to fund additional staff to assist with early prevention and interventions to improve birth outcomes. We have found that their work makes a huge difference in birth outcomes by improving maternal health in areas such as smoking, substance use and depression.

As Kelly Weidenbach, executive director of the Casper Natrona County Department of Health, mentioned in the Tribune’s article, this program has been “systematically underfunded,” and is not able to serve all the women that could benefit from their services. Through our grant, the Department of Health was able to hire a full-time social worker and a part-time registered nurse, as well as purchase necessary equipment for these employees. Because of this, we estimate that twice the number of pregnant women will benefit from this service. However, there is still an opportunity to expand these services further.

The Foundation has also developed a website to help link pregnant women in Natrona County to available resources. The website, earlykincare.org, provides a central location to access pregnancy-related resources.

We can use the community’s support in our efforts and we cannot do it alone. If you are interested in finding ways in which you can support our mission, you can visit our website or contact our Program Director, Aimee Jolley, at director@earlykincare.org, for more information. In addition to our website, contact information can be found on our Facebook page: facebook.com/earlykincare.

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Kyle A. Ridgeway is the President of the Healthy Birth and Infant Brains Foundation

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