Natick Doctor Helps Moms Succeed
By Sean Sullivan
Complementing her long career in medicine, Natick’s Dr. Roseanna Means is still working to traverse the gaps in our healthcare system.
A Boston physician for decades, Means founded “Bridges to Moms,” a program that looks after the healthcare needs of mothers struggling with or at risk of homelessness. Based out of Brigham and Women’s hospital, the organization was founded in 2016.
BTM follows expectant mothers throughout their pregnancies and beyond, working with them to arrange and deliver the manifold services essential to healthy outcomes.
When it comes to caring for these at-risk mothers, the organization’s strength is redefining the tangential as essential. The devil is often found in the details of these moms’ healthcare and childcare, said Means, and no element is given short shrift.
In its years caring for the wellbeing of its clients, BTM has become fluent in the myriad, often-overlooked ways that their health can be undermined.
Mothers requiring insulin to treat diabetes, for instance, may often have no way to refrigerate their medication. Many shelters do not have access to a fridge - yet another healthcare hurdle that mothers and advocates must overcome.
“The whole health is looked at,” said Means.
As such, Bridges to Moms appointments are often exercises in fact finding, of teasing out the conditions under which the mothers-to-be are living.
A major obstacle to these moms getting the medical care they need is transportation. Insurance plans don’t cover the cost of trips to and from healthcare facilities like Brigham and Women’s. People living with or at risk of being homeless are often sheltered in far-flung facilities, necessitating long and costly rides to appointments.
And proper nutrition is just one of many risk factors that Bridges to Moms staff must assess and consider when caring for the health of future mothers. It’s yet another variable that’s taken for granted in more affluent populations.
I you don’t ask, said Means, “You don’t know that they’re not eating or getting the right kind of food.”
Means has a Masters Degree in nutrition, and participants in the BTM program are given vouchers to purchase food in Brigham and Women’s café while they’re visiting the facility for care.
“Pregnancy can be a pretty scary time,” said Means, noting that over ninety-five percent of mothers in the program are women of color, for whom the maternal death rate is three-to-five times higher than average. Since 2016, she said, no participant in Bridges to Moms has died of pregnancy-related causes.
“That’s pretty amazing.”
And after a birth, Bridges to Moms helps new mothers on the path toward more promising futures; the program includes a workforce development and job placement component.
“We don’t sort of stop when the baby comes,” said Means. “They still have to move on with their lives.”
“We’re very excited with what we can do with these women,” she added, noting that one-third of them are immigrants, for whom English is not a native language. Bridges to Moms also partners with “Found in Translation,” a Boston-based organization that helps at-risk women develop and benefit from multilingual fluency.
Language skills can bear significantly upon potential job opportunities and social mobility. Means’ early advice to ESL clients under her care: “Start right now. Start learning English.”
In building Bridges to Moms, every part of the structure is scrutinized, to make the crossing as likely and friction-free as possible. Crossing from pregnancy to motherhood, from at-risk to wellness, from society’s shadows to brighter shores.
On May 10th, the program will be sponsoring a “Day of Beauty,” an event where clients of the program can access free makeovers. Hairstyling, makeup and manicures will be among the services offered, as well as transportation to the Brigham and Women’s facility where the event will be held.
A team of women (affectionately nicknamed the “Grannies”) will be on hand that day to look after children of moms undergoing makeovers. Means will be among them.
A way to “Get my baby fix,” she said, an added perk of volunteering that day.
The Studio Nails salon in Natick is among the businesses donating time, skills and resources to the event. Studio Nails owner Lynn Dang will make her services available at the Day of Beauty, the latest in a long line of people who have enabled Bridges to Moms to cover the healthcare needs of at-risk women since its founding. The program is funded via philanthropy.
“People just jump at the chance to help us out,” said Means.