First Lady Sandra Deal holds newborn Turner as his parents Josh Johnson and Hannah Turner look on. (Special Photo: Steve Reagan)
COVINGTON — Georgia’s First Lady Sandra Deal visited Newton Medical Center Monday to raise awareness about the importance of immunizations, learn about the hospital’s First Steps program and tour the BirthCare Center.
A former teacher, Deal has focused much of her platform as first lady on children’s issues, including encouraging on-time immunizations.
“We do think immunizations help keep our children healthy,” she said.
Deal said her goal is to make sure parents get their children immunized to prevent them from contracting and spreading diseases.
She and Gov. Nathan Deal have partnered with Hallmark to distribute a card of congratulations to new parents. The card, printed and distributed by Hallmark free of charge throughout the state, reminds parents of the importance of beginning immunizations by 2 months and provides an immunization and growth chart. Approximately 125,000 cards have been distributed.
At Newton Medical, the card is distributed, along with educational materials, through the First Steps program. Volunteers with Newton Medical Auxiliary visit parents after their child’s birth to provide educational materials and community resources geared toward helping babies get off to a healthy start. Topics include how dad can help with baby, toy safety, ways to help brain development and car safety seat check ups. Issues like postpartum depression and how to deal with stress can also be addressed.
Volunteers also check in after families go home via email or send snail mail newsletters, said First Steps coordinator Cathy Williams. Parents are also provided with the number for a 24-hour help line.
Deal was greeted with a bouquet of flowers from Peyton Collins, 5, whose mother, Brittany Forbes, benefited from the First Steps program after Peyton was born. Forbes said the program was “a wonderful experience” for a first-time mom.
“Parents have a lot to learn and a lot to remember,” Deal said. “Hopefully, this will help them remember some of the things they need to do.”
First Steps has been a volunteer program of the Newton Medical Auxiliary since 1992 and has provided services to nearly 6,000 families.
The program is funded by the hospital and, beginning last year, through a grant from the Governor’s Office for Children and Families. Snapping Shoals also donates from its Operation Round Up program to fund first-year milestone calendars for babies.
Williams said even experienced parents benefit from First Steps because the information provided is updated when necessary, such as when car safety seat regulations change.
Williams said it was nice to have the longstanding program in the spotlight with the First Lady’s visit.
Deal also toured the BirthCare Center, where she held a newborn, walked through the neonatal intensive care unit and learned that Newton Medical expects to welcome up to 900 babies this year. She thanked the staff for their daily work to help babies get a good start in life before heading off to Piedmont Henry Hospital in Henry County.