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'Somewhere along the way, an angel came' | Mecklenburg County nonprofit hoping to improve access to quality care

Any mom who qualifies for Medicaid or food assistance qualifies for the program.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — There are glaring racial disparities in pregnancy outcomes between white women and Black women. 

In North Carolina, the pre-term birth rate for Black women is 46% higher than for white women. 

And in Mecklenburg County, a Black infant is five times more likely to die in its first year of life than a white infant. 

A nonprofit, with help and funding from Mecklenburg County, is seeking solutions, bringing quality and affordable healthcare and resources directly to those families who may be at a higher risk for a bad outcome. 

Nurse-Family Partnership is a national program that’s been in the Charlotte area since 2008 but recently, was expanded. They primarily serve lower-income families who may not have as much access to quality health care. 

Nurses go directly into the home, meeting with moms and answering all of their questions from the start of their pregnancy through the first two years of their kid’s life.

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In June, Jaylan and his mom Alexsis Greene will reach a huge milestone, his first birthday. 

“I still cry," Alexsis Greene said. "Even looking at the clothes that he can’t fit in anymore. We just put some away and I’m like, 'Oh my goodness, you were just this tiny.'” 

Pregnancy and this first year have been overwhelming for Greene. 

“I’m an overthinker, I worry about everything, but I mean every first-time mom is like that," Greene said. 

She’s leaned on Porsha Hayden, a nurse home visitor with Care Ring NC, a nonprofit providing affordable, quality healthcare to the uninsured. She’s part of its Nurse-Family Partnership program. 

RELATED: Group seeking solutions to save the lives of Black mothers, infants

“We’re here to provide support for our moms and ultimately the outcome is to have [a] healthy mom and healthy babies,” Porsha Hayden said. 

Any mom who qualifies for Medicaid or food assistance qualifies for the program. Nurses will check in regularly, guiding them and bringing them items like diapers, books or toys. 

“Sometimes you just give people resources, and they just take off," Hayden said. "Just actually being there for them and helping them support and answer questions and things they might not know. It just really, really helps them to serve themselves better, for one, but also their child.” 

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Felicia Barnes never pictured being on a playground with her 3-year-old daughter. She was surprised when she found out she was pregnant and overwhelmed when it became high risk. 

"Somewhere along the way, an angel came," Barnes said. "I know my doctor mentioned it but when the phone call came, it was right on time.” 

The angel was her nurse with the Nurse-Family Partnership

"It would’ve been extremely hard for me and frustrating because I wouldn’t have anyone hands-on to answer those questions for me," Barnes said. "So it was just so great to have my nurse Piper be there every step of the way.”

It’s not what she planned but Barnes said she wouldn’t have it any other way. 

Barnes is now a member of the board for Care Ring. She said the most rewarding part has been calling and personally thanking the donors who helped set her and her daughter Willow up for success. 

Last year they served nearly 700 families in Mecklenburg County; 90% of those babies were born at full term and at a healthy weight, and 68% of the moms who started the program without a high school diploma ended it with one or with a GED.

Contact Chloe Leshner at cleshner@wcnc.com and follow her on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

RELATED: Nonprofit serving thousands of Mecklenburg County residents in need of affordable medical care