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Partners HealthCare Brigham and Women's Hospital: Promoting healthy families

3/22/2011, 8:58 p.m.
Midwife Raquel Vargas-Vila sees patient Copin Jouselyne at the Mattapan Community Health Center. Partners HealthCare

Early in her training, Raquel Vargas-Vila, CNM, started out wanting to be an obstetrician, but quickly recognized the benefits that a career in midwifery provided to her. Simply put, being a midwife was a perfect fit.

“I liked the idea of teaching women to take control of their lives,” Vargas-Vila said. “A lot of times, women feel like they are not in control when in reality they are the ones who make decisions about the family’s school, food and clothes — they create the whole life for the entire family.”

Midwives like Vargas-Vila, who comprise the Brigham and Women’s Midwifery Program that serves the Boston area, are expanding the traditional boundaries of clinical care to aid families in leading healthier, more productive lives.

In addition to personalized prenatal care, labor and delivery, postnatal and gynecology, midwives are also experts in family planning, decision making, menopausal management and counseling in health maintenance and disease prevention.

Miriam Mahler, CNM, MPH, director of the Midwifery Program at Brigham and Women’s Hospital said, “Midwives support the spiritual, mental and emotional health of the whole family.”

 Mahler explained that by incorporating partners and children in a woman’s pregnancy, the whole family feels they are a part of the pregnancy. This kind of engagement can create a true sense of partnership and can make older children feel less anxious when the new baby arrives.

Midwives are having a profound impact on the health and well-being on the communities they serve by working to address preventable health issues like obesity and diabetes.

During her nine years as a midwife, Vargas-Vila has delivered more than 700 babies. In addition to delivering babies, she has also counseled parents, mothers and fathers. Through her conversations with mothers, Vargas-Vila has taught women to think differently about the food they eat during their pregnancy in order to ensure a healthy delivery. With families, she has educated parents how to eat more nutritiously.

“Empowering a woman to know that she has control and is able to make decisions hopefully gives her the tools that allow her to have a positive effect on her own life and her children’s lives,” Vargas-Vila said.

The guidance she has provided has lasted beyond many women’s pregnancies, having an impact on the dietary habits of the parents and their children — potentially preventing some future health risks.

Aside from the individual patients, Vargas-Vila sees her efforts at the Mattapan Community Health Center — and those of all the providers at the health center — are having a critically important effect on key community health indicators.

“In the last three years, the health center has seen a decrease in the infant mortality rate,” said Azzie Young, president and CEO of Mattapan Community Health Center. “Health trends are heading in the right direction. There is more work to do, but throughout this time, more women who received their care at the health center got adequate prenatal care and had fewer low birth-weight babies. Our women’s health services are critically important here.”

Through Brigham and Women’s Hospital Midwifery Program, care for women of childbearing age is being provided at 10 different Partners’ HealthCare affiliated health centers across Boston in the communities where they live and work. Access to the Midwifery Program is also available to women who choose to give birth at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

“Helping women — especially women of childbearing age — receive care where they live is a community benefit Partners HealthCare is committed to,” said Matt Fishman, vice president for Community Health, Partners HealthCare. “Access to community-based, quality care is critically important to keeping families healthy.”

Partners HealthCare and its founding hospitals, Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Massachusetts General Hospital, are committed to building healthier communities by continuing to support the work of community health centers like Mattapan. Community-based programs that focus on patient-centered care, such as those that provide women’s and maternal health services, are vital to making this happen.