By Kim Walter
Of Virginia's 58 medical facilities that offer the Paternity Establishment Program, two in the Shenandoah Valley are being recognized for exceptional performance rates.
The Virginia Department of Social Services, in conjunction with the Center for the Support of Families, released a list of the top 10 Virginia hospitals that "continue to raise the bar" by achieving paternity establishment rates greater than 77 percent in 2012.
Establishing paternity 80.7 percent of the time ranked Winchester Medical Center at No. 3, while Warren Memorial Hospital ranked at No. 10 with a 77.3 percent paternity establishment rate.
Winchester Medical Center had 2,333 births in 2012, compared to Warren Memorial's 384. However, Warren Memorial's percentage of unmarried parents compared to married was the highest on the list at 57.3 percent. Winchester Medical Center's was almost 20 percent lower, at 38.6 percent.
The Paternity Establishment Program offers unmarried parents the opportunity to establish paternity for their newborns by voluntarily acknowledging paternity prior to leaving the hospital.
Kim Shirley, director of the Women's Care Center at Warren Memorial, said the program has produced significant increases in paternity establishment rates since its adoption in 2005. The hospital actually ranked No. 1 on the list in 2010 and 2011.
"When I started here in 2002, we were establishing paternity about 45 percent of the time," she said. "Last year, we were up to 81 percent, so I'm very happy with where we are."
When establishing paternity, Shirley said there are a lot of factors to look at, including the father being "too busy" to be at the hospital, or the mother simply choosing not to name the child's father.
However, Shirley insists that establishing paternity is beneficial to both parents and children.
"Just think, if something were to happen to the father, by at least providing his name, the child will have something to fall back on," she said. "Paternity is a gift to the child."
In the same respect, if something happened to the mother of a baby and there were issues with identifying the father, he could have trouble gaining custody.
Janet Nordling, director of Women and Children Services at Winchester Medical Center, agreed on the importance of paternity, noting the psychological benefits as well.
"If the father's name isn't listed, he could lose a chance at visiting rights," she said. "All that does is hurt the child."
She said one employee at the center is responsible for the paternity establishment process, which helps with success rates. The person has a good sense of how to go about collecting information from a mother or parents in way that makes them comfortable.
"She's developed the skills to be able to talk to moms, and let them know how important it is to give the father's name, regardless of the personal relationship between the mother and father," she said.
Nordling said the number of unmarried parents seems to be decreasing in the area, thanks to the number of community outreach organizations that combat teen pregnancy.
"We'll just continue to stay the course," she said. "Of course, our goal is to be number one in establishing paternity, but the more deliveries we have the more difficult it is. Given all the births taking place here, I'm very proud of our work."
To find out more information about the Virginia Paternity Establishment Program, or to view the complete ranking list, go to www.vapeernity.org.
Contact staff writer Kim Walter at 540-465-5137 ext. 191, or firstname.lastname@example.org