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Optimism in the Midst of COVID

kid wearing mask gets a bandaid from doctor

by Natalie Tackitt, North Carolina HealthySteps Coordinator

North Carolina HealthySteps Coordinator ZERO TO THREE

Hello, everyone! My name is Natalie Tackitt and I am the North Carolina Coordinator for HealthySteps. Before I share information about my role in the ZERO TO THREE organization, I’d like to share something about myself that will explain a lot about my perspective on my work.

I come from a family of optimists. Whether by nature or nurture, we look for the silver lining in every situation. My mother firmly believed that all situations eventually worked out. I grew up surrounded by the attitude that everything always works out in the end. If it hasn’t worked out, you just haven’t gotten to the end yet. And an actual quote from my father: “We are so lucky! When the car broke down, we were right in front of a gas station.” He said this with complete sincerity—not a hint of sarcasm. Can you imagine?

I carry that optimism to my work. As the HealthySteps Coordinator, I am a resource for sites across North Carolina when they express an interest in HealthySteps, and I participate in statewide workgroups focused on advocating for policies supporting maternal and infant–toddler mental health. My main responsibility is representing HealthySteps as part of Ready for School, Ready for Life (Ready/Ready). Ready/Ready is a complex collaborative effort in Guilford County building a system of care for children prenatally to 5 years old that improves outcomes for all children in Guilford County. They chose HealthySteps as one of the evidenced-based programs to reach that optimistic goal.

I am charged with expanding HealthySteps into every child serving medical home in the county. (Another optimistic goal?) What that means in practice is that I get to meet and develop relationships with pediatric serving teams in all manner of settings: large Federally Qualified Health Centers, tiny non-profit community clinics, large and medium size private practices with multiple profit-sharing partners, practices that are part of large health systems that range from small store front family practice sites scattered throughout the county to large centrally located pediatric clinics, even what might be called a “mom and pop” site—the husband is a pediatrician and his wife is the nurse/bookkeeper/receptionist! Each site has its own personality, culture, mission, and needs. As we say on our team, “If you’ve seen one HealthySteps practice, you’ve seen one HealthySteps practice.”

HealthySteps Specialists and the providers they work with care deeply about the families they serve. They leave no stone unturned when searching for resources and ache when they come up empty.

These many relationships have allowed me a window into their daily joys and challenges, including those unique to these times. We have heard so much about the struggles brought about by the pandemic and the exacerbation of existing inequities. Families with the greatest need tend to have the most limited access to resources that are increasingly difficult to find. HealthySteps Specialists and the providers they work with care deeply about the families they serve. They leave no stone unturned when searching for resources and ache when they come up empty.

When asked about these challenges, the Specialists I know talk about them honestly. Some of the agencies they used to refer families to have shut down due to COVID-19. It is incredibly difficult to connect with families while working remotely, both literally and in terms of relationship building. HealthySteps Specialists are experiencing higher levels of anxiety and depression themselves, even as they struggle to meet the needs of families whose levels of anxiety and depression have increased.

And then the Specialists usually pivot to share some of the solutions they have developed. They have strengthened their networks to stay current on new ways to connect families to resources during COVID-19. They have been able to spend more time with families on the phone than they ever could in an exam room that was needed for the next patient. Providers who used to be hesitant to ask about family needs are now more aware of the widespread needs and the part they can play in addressing them. They have encouraged one another to care for themselves, sharing strategies and support to nurture each other.

The Specialists are not Pollyannas. They are painfully aware of the existence and impact of hardships and wrongs in our world. But they continue to work to make a positive difference for families. Because they believe they can. I am surrounded by optimists! Aren’t I lucky?

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