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Laura Aussant of The Providence Center (TPC) is one of the many Care New England nurses who is going above and beyond their job descriptions to find innovative ways of providing care. Recently, she spearheaded a weekly support group called “Baby on Board” to provide women who are pregnant or have recently given birth with education, support and resources to help ensure a healthy pregnancy and postpartum period.

Aussant entered the nursing field just three years ago and hit the ground running. She graduated with a nursing degree from Community College of Rhode Island (CCRI), and enjoyed the program’s rigorous nature. “In your second week of school, you start with clinical training, and I loved the hands-on aspect,” said Aussant.

She wasn’t always so interested in the behavioral health aspect of care. “In the CCRI program, we performed every rotation you can think of. At first, I didn’t want anything to do with psych. I tried as hard as I could to avoid it!” The semester she enjoyed the most was the maternity program, which she performed at Kent Hospital.

Laura Aussant

Like many nurses, she began her career in a nursing home and soon found geriatric psychology work genuinely fulfilling. Eventually, she began doing some inpatient psych work at the Dual Diagnosis Unit at Roger Williams Hospital. She enjoyed the position, but wanted something more family-oriented.

In June of 2016, Aussant began working in the Community Support Program at TPC and soon after took a float nurse position under Sharon Morello, TPC’s Director of Medical Staff Services. She found that it was exactly what she was looking for. “Not being restricted to a caseload really allows you to focus in on the nursing aspect and helping people. It’s truly fun for me,” she said.

In addition to all her day-to-day duties work, Aussant serves as a TPC nursing representative on the Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS) task force, a subcommittee of the Rhode Island State Opioid Prevention and Intervention task force that seeks to improve the clinical care of babies with NAS and enhance the support provided to their families.

A few months ago, Aussant began to notice an influx of pregnant women to TPC programs. “Dr. Ann Potter, a TPC psychiatrist, makes a point to see these women on a monthly basis, and she had asked the nurses to be aware of their progress,” she said.

Aussant decided to take it a step further. “I thought: ‘what if we started a group for pregnant women?’ There’s not much else like that at The Providence Center for that niche, and we could provide some really valuable info and support.”

With help from nurse Tashana Beltre and others, Aussant put out the call to different departments and received five referrals of pregnant women from TPC’s Community Support and Behavioral Health Outpatient Programs.

The team decided that a 1.5 hour weekly group would be the best format for “Baby on Board.” At the first group meeting, the staff handed out a questionnaire to find out more about each woman and found that many of them were going through the same things. “When designing the group, we wanted the subject matter to be need-based and tailored to what the women want to know. We come prepared with topics but it very often leads to discussion,” said Aussant.

The curriculum helps the mothers deal with common pregnancy and post-partum issues like:

  • Depression.
  • Anxiety.
  • Medication management.
  • Fetal alcohol syndrome.
  • Preparing for delivery.
  • Newborn essentials checklist.

“We leave the last half hour open as an opportunity for the women to share with each other about their experiences and struggles in the previous week,” said Aussant. When one of the women, Ashley, was about to deliver, the rest of the group voted unanimously to leave the group open to new moms and their babies, which gives them a chance to discuss things like breastfeeding and the “fourth trimester” of pregnancy. 

The program also presents opportunities to connect the women with other resources. Healthy Families America (HFA) contributes about 30 minutes of material to each group, covering things like prenatal care and development. After Ashley delivered her baby at Women & Infants Hospital, the “Baby on Board” staff was able to go and visit with her.

When they got to the hospital, Aussant noticed that Ashley had been given Tylenol with Codeine, which could present a problem given her substance use history. She called Anchor Recovery Community Center and got a recovery coach to come out and discuss how to avoid a risk of relapse.

Aussant was thrilled to see one of her clients putting the things they had learned into practice. “Ashley has experienced past challenges that lead her to sign over custody of her then 2-year-old daughter, so this was a big win for her. It gave her a second chance to show DCYF that she is capable of doing things the right way.” 

In the program’s ninth week, she thought of a way to help their moms even more. “Deb O’Brien, TPC’s vice president and chief operating officer, heard about our program and brought in some donations from a friend. That got me thinking: is there an opportunity here to do something more?” She approached her supervisor about having a baby shower at TPC with donations from staff.

Within three days of a TPC-wide email being sent out, Baby on Board had more than enough clothes, toys, and supplies for a baby shower. “The response was completely overwhelming, and we loved being able to do this as a way of honoring these women’s commitment to healthy pregnancies. One of the moms remarked that this was the only shower she was going to have.”

Aussant couldn’t be happier with how the program has turned out. “I’m really proud of our moms. These women have created strong bonds with each other, and I’ve loved connecting with them on a personal level. I’m also a mom, so I can say: ‘I have kids, and I don’t have all the answers, either,’” said Aussant. 

As for the future of program, she hopes to get more referrals and a second round of weekly groups. For the current moms, she wants to create a mom and toddler support group, so the program can grow with their children as their needs change.

For more information about the Baby on Board support group, please call (401) 383-7056