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We must do better for mothers, children

The recent death of a 2-year-old Jackson County boy as a result of domestic violence has left my heart awash with grief. At the same time, I am dumbfounded by the lack of community response. Are we so traumatized by the media that the loss of a precious little child resonates no more than a tabloid blip? I dare say the death of a cat by human hands would garner more letters to the editor.

His death surely must awaken us to the critical necessity of resolving our budget crisis. As the great Theodore Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss, said in his old age, "We can, and we've got to, do better than this"

As a Maternal Child Health nurse with Jackson County Health and Human Services, I have watched in horror as our budget has dwindled to half of what it was eight years ago. We currently have only 5 1/2 full-time home visitation nurses for our county population of over 200,000. Of the 2,200 births per year, 1,000 are to mothers on the Oregon Health Plan, with financial needs that put their newborns at risk. Four hundred of these babies are prenatally exposed to alcohol, tobacco and other drugs per year. Of those cases, 85 percent are single women, and the fathers do not take responsibility for the pregnancy. Where are the fathers and how do we call them to this great task? After 18 years at this job, the "elephant in the living room" remains the same.

County cutbacks create a dire emergency for our newborns: concern for safety in the home, lack of early prenatal care, inadequate nutrition and the prominent disease of poverty - emotional neglect.

The UNICEF survey published last month exposes a shocking statistic. The survey ranks the 21 industrialized countries in six categories: material well-being, health and safety, education, peer and family relationships, behaviors and risks, and young people's own subjective sense of well- being. The United States was last for health and safety, measured by rates of infant mortality, low birth weight, immunizations and deaths from accidents and injuries.

Indeed, we can do better than this.

The Millennium Development Goals developed by the United Nations call for unprecedented efforts in eight areas by 2015, a blueprint to improve world suffering. Two of these are to reduce child mortality and to improve maternal health. How can our county possibly reduce funding at this critical time? How did we come to this day? Did I stay silent too long? Did I fail my clients by putting faith in a failing system? Have I participated in the problem by expecting someone else to flatten the barricades between bureaucracies? How can I be a voice for my client when my caseload is so over-whelming?

A 16-year-old client named Crystal wrote a poem for me many years ago. I have kept it close to my heart, and today the words of this young mother ring in my ears.

I have often wondered why so many strange things happen. I can never understand the pains of this world; they go way beyond me.

Why do the hungry go hungry or the homeless go homeless?

Life is a gift no matter what you believe.

How can one beat a child?

How can you live without seeing what is happening right before you?

What can happen to this world if these illnesses do not stop?

What kind of world are we leaving for the child who has done no wrong?

What are we leaving for you?

And what are you doing to stop the pains of this world?

Robin Turgesen, RN, BSN, is a Maternal Child Health Nurse with Jackson County Health and Human Services.got here