AUGUSTA — A $130,000 grant recently given to MaineGeneral Medical Center’s pediatric center aims to provide groundbreaking new coaching services for at-risk mothers in Kennebec and Somerset counties who are suffering from troubles such as drug abuse.

It’s the first program of its kind in New England, officials said, and it comes as Maine continues to grapple with an opioid crisis that’s claiming lives from overdoses at a rate of about one per day. The state is receiving $2.3 million in federal money to support an expansion of medication-assisted treatment programs for opioid use disorder.

The one-year grant to MaineGeneral supports up to 40 mothers who suffer from substance use disorder, a history of mental health diagnosis, involvement with the child welfare system or other related factors that make parenting harder, according to a MaineGeneral Health news release.

“Many parents today are struggling with mental health and substance use problems, which can seriously interfere with their ability to connect with their infant in the sensitive, nurturing, consistent way that they, in their heart of hearts, very much want to,” said Dr. Lindsey Tweed, a child psychiatrist at the Edmund N. Ervin Pediatric Center.

Starting with up to 40 mothers is a good place to get the program moving, said Jennifer Beck, senior program associate for the John T. Gorman Foundation.

Tweed said he considered it a pilot program and if they could, they would expand the number of mothers in the program.

The number 40 was selected because that is about the number of women who take part in a pregnancy program, according to Alane O’Connor, a family medicine practitioner for MaineGeneral Health.

Beginning at six months into the pregnancy, the mothers will meet with health educators starting July 1 from The Edmund N. Ervin Pediatric Center, according to the news release. The Portland-based foundation is focused on supporting disadvantaged Maine residents.

Tweed said there is an intense concern about insecure attachment in babies. He said babies need attention at an early age because otherwise,they produce too much cortisol, which is a primary stress-producing chemical. Tweed said “the baby is basically scared all of the time” when too much cortisol is produced.

On top of the cortisol levels, opioid usage is a concern that interferes with the ability to secure attachment, Tweed said.

Of all the tests, this program has the best results from the clinical trials, Tweed said. The babies’ cortisol normalizes when the health educators visit the home and help the mothers.

The $130,000 grant is the true cost to support training, certification and equipment for two part-time health educators, Beck said.

The program is completely funded by the grant, but the hope is for it to be a statewide program funded by MaineCare Services, said Liam Shaw, community programs coordinator for the Edmund N. Ervin Pediatric Center.

Tweed said the grant could go toward either one full-time employee or two part-time employees. The reason hospital officials went with two part-time employees is partially because there are two clinics working on the program: Maine Dartmouth Family Practice and Family Medicine Institute.

Another reason there are two part-time employees is to ensure sustainability. If something comes up in either of the workers’  lives, someone needs to be able to take over. The program coordinator is also someone who will be trained to function in these roles, so there is a backup, Beck said

The health educators will show the mothers how to nurture children and emotionally connect with their babies. The mothers also will be getting feedback from the health educators.

“A healthy start makes all the difference in (the children’s) future outcomes,” Beck said.

The health educators will use the Attachment and Biobehavioral Catch-up, or ABC, model. They will meet with mothers at their homes once a week for about 14 weeks, Beck said.

The ABC model, which is available for children from 6 months to 4 years old, helps caregivers reinterpret children’s behavioral signals, enhances children’s behavioral and regulatory capabilities and fosters the development of secure attachments between children and caregivers, according to ABC’s website.


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