In-Home Baby Visits Not A Mandate, Say Measure’s Supporters

Jan 28, 2019

Oregon lawmakers are considering a proposal to offer parents of newborns free in-home visits from nurses. Supporters say in-home visits from a public health nurse can go a long way in helping to ease the transition to parenthood. 

The nurses would assess the health of mother and child, help connect the family to social services, and offer advice on the day-to-day tasks that come with a newborn.

Supporters sought to assure opponents during a state capitol hearing Monday that the program would be optional. “The conversation here is how can we, as a state, assist new mothers if they want that assistance? How can we make that available to them?” said Rep. Duane Stark, R-Grants Pass.

Rep. Duane Stark, R-Grants Pass, testifies in support of a bill that would offer parents of newborns a free in-home visit from a public health nurse.
Credit Oregon Legislature

Stark alluded to articles on some conservative websites that called the bill “dangerous” and that it could lead to mandatory “in-home surveillance of newborns.”

“I really hope that the fear-mongering conspiracy theorists out there that have been going with these sensational headlines about this being a mandatory program, I hope that you guys will look at the actual content of the bill,” said Stark. “This bill is about giving options to people who want them. That’s it.”

Opponents remained skeptical at the hearing. Salem resident Abigail Eckhart said she resented the way her opposition was characterized. “I am not a conspiracy theorist and I’m not a fear-monger. I’m a mom and I’m desperately trying to protect my children in my home.” Eckhart said she worried that even if the in-home visits are optional, parents who rejected the offer would be stigmatized.

Currently, the bill contains few details about how the program would work. Lawmakers did not take action on the bill Monday, but committee chair Sen. Laurie Monnes Anderson, D-Gresham, said it would likely be amended to clarify that parents would have to opt-in to the nurse visits, rather than opt-out.

In Oregon, Lincoln County already offers home visits to all new mothers. Their program is modeled after a concept developed at Duke University that’s been applied by local public health agencies in at least 13 states. A spokesperson for the Lincoln County Department of Public Health declined to answer questions about that county’s implementation of what they call the “Babies First” program.