NHSA's History and Organizational Background
The National Healthy Start Association (NHSA) was formally established in the State of Maryland in 1999 as a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. The project directors of the original federally-funded Healthy Start projects established NHSA to ensure the sustainability of the Healthy Start programs and to provide continued advocacy, support and technical assistance the Healthy Start programs as the program grew from the original 22 projects to almost 100 projects. The newly established NHSA worked with federal partners, other MCH and community-based advocates and Congressional champions to secure federal authorization that secured continued Healthy Start funding beyond the demonstration period.
Throughout our history, we have consistently experienced almost 100% membership from the projects. NHSA operates with a small, but highly dedicated and qualified staff , consultants and a volunteer Board of Directors.
NHSA’s mission is to be our nation’s voice in providing leadership and advocacy for health equity, services and interventions that improve birth outcomes and family well-being. Our vision statement reads, “The NHSA is a recognized leader in and advocate for reducing infant mortality and perinatal disparities and the hub for maternal and child health pro-grams and services.”
NHSA is committed to improving birth outcomes and health disparities that exist within communities of color throughout the United States. As the membership association for the federal Healthy Start programs, NHSA promotes the development of community-based and community-driven maternal and child health (MCH) programs, particularly those addressing the issues of maternal and infant mortality, low birth weight and racial disparities in perinatal outcomes. With over 100 Healthy Start projects situated across the United States, the Association works to expand the capacity of community-driven and community-based MCH programs and maternal and infant mortality preventive health services, thereby ensuring that all families have access to a continuum of affordable quality health care and related services. This range of care extends beyond the welfare of newborns and includes mothers, fathers and families, thus affecting the entire community.
Some of NHSA’s accomplishments in our 20-plus-year history include the authorization of the Healthy Start initiative and subsequent reauthorizations, most recently in 2020; convening 20 annual conferences with attendance around 450-600, including upwards of 70 consumers from the projects and some of the nation’s most prominent experts in our topic areas; 12 regional conferences in 2004 and 2006; and publication of a series of The Healthy Start Guide to… toolkits supported with funding from the Annie E. Casey Foundation. The toolkits topics were Strategies for Success, Effective Community Involvement, Financial Sustainability, Evaluating Success and Risk Factor Assessment.
The regional conferences were the first of the kind for Healthy Start. NHSA extended a collaborative invitation to state and regional Title V programs to participate in planning and implementation. The regional conferences provided the topic areas most requested by the attendees for NHSA’s Healthy Start Leadership Training Institute (HSLTI), which was established and implemented with two convenings a year from 2007-2014.
Additional publications include Saving Our Nation’s Babies: The Impact of the Federal Healthy Start Initiative and web-based toolkits on Interconception Care andMaternal Depression and Toxic Stress, both topics of importance that are often overlooked. The Interconception Care toolkit included six modules that covered topics such as nutrition, family planning and weight before, during and after pregnancy.The Association also produces a monthly newsletter, Getting off to a Healthy Start, which is distributed electronically to over 2,500 individuals.
It would take up too much space to highlight all our accomplishments, but a few more are:
- Added Healthy Start consumers to our Board of Directors so their voices could be heard beyond the local project level
- Carried out a Partnership to Promote Maternal and Child Health grant
- Creation of the National Infant Mortality Awareness Month and the Celebrate Day 366…Every baby deserves a chance campaign; Healthy Start projects across the country obtain proclamations from their governors and mayors and carry out creative awareness activities, such as a Baby Buggy Walk
- Partnered with the March of Dimes on their national Prematurity Campaign
- Held kickoff rallies for our Capitol Hill Day at every annual conference, with rally cheerleaders such as Congressman James Clyburn and the late Elijah Cummings
- Developed our first white paper, National Healthy Start Initiative: A National Network for Effective Family Support Services and Home Visitation
- Established the Where Dads Matter Fatherhood Initiative; integrated the Center for Disease Control and Preventions’ Learn the Signs Act Early program in NHSA’s Fatherhood texting program and implemented it in 26 sites and evaluated it in both initiatives
- Created an annual Fatherhood Summit on the Health and Wellbeing of Men and Boys to provide support and technical assistance to the Healthy Start programs on fatherhood and male involvement; this along with the creation of Where Dads Matter and the fatherhood texting program are historical inclusions of fatherhood in an MCH program
- Helped to expand the Affordable Care Act in five states and other Healthy Start sites working with locally funded Navigator and state operated exchanges
We could go on, but we don’t want to take up the entire website with our accomplishments! Here’s the takeaway: NHSA is and has always been a dynamic force in the Maternal and Child Health field and is a staunch supporter of adding “the ‘F’ in MCH” to recognize the need for strong fatherhood programming at the project and national level. NHSA has always been and remains a leader in providing education, training and technical assistance to the Healthy Start projects. NHSA is and always has been an advocate for Healthy Start, mothers, babies, fathers, families and communities on Capitol Hill, educating our Members of Congress on the need for adequate funding for the program. NHSA will continue to carry out its mission and vision and be a leader in reducing infant and maternal mortality and to reduce racial and ethnic health disparities.
As part of our mission, NHSA aims to be an effective advocate in policies and programs that improve the health status of women, infants and families and strengthen the capacity of Healthy Start programs and community-driven and community-based MCH organizations nationwide. Over the next five years, The Association will expand on its mission and strengthen our brand and commitment to members. Developing strategic partnerships, engaging consumers in programmatic activities, and successfully communicating the outcomes of Healthy Start projects are among the goals NHSA has put in place to become a more effective and vital organization. As we work in collaboration with our members to improve birth outcomes, NHSA has outlined comprehensive and strategic goals to help us move forward with the ongoing efforts of the Association.