Delivery of Care

A telehealth intervention for maternal depression

New program launched to assist providers in caring for patients

Image courtesy of RI Kids Count

A new telehealth program, RI MomsPRN, has been launched to improve access to resources to treat maternal depression in Rhode Island.

By Richard Asinof
Posted 11/4/19
A new telehealth program to assist providers in treating maternal depression has been launched in Rhode Island, a partnership between the R.I. Department of Health and the Center for Women’s Behavioral Health at Women & Infants Hospital.
How will cultural differences in mothers talking about depression be addressed as part of the new telehealth program? What kinds of peer recovery supports are place for mothers with depression who also are being treated for substance use disorders? How much is stress around housing costs and childcare costs a factor in maternal depression?
The continued expansion of telehealth services across a variety of platforms in Rhode Island, enabling providers to consult with specialists, particularly psychiatrists and psychologists in behavioral health, raises the question about how such services are being tracked and what kinds of data is being produced when it comes to measuring health outcomes.

PROVIDENCE – A new telehealth program, the Rhode Island Maternal Psychiatry Resource Network, or RI MomsPRN, has been launched as a partnership between the R.I. Department of Health and the Center for Women’s Behavioral Health at Women & Infants Hospital to address the behavioral health care needs of pregnant and postpartum women in the Rhode Island, focused on maternal depression.

The new program, which builds upon the success of a similar telehealth program that helps pediatricians manage children’s psychiatric needs, is being funded through a five-year grant from the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration.

Maternal depression can occur before, during or after pregnancy. According to an issue brief on maternal depression prepared by Rhode Island Kids Count in 2018, between 2012 and 2015, some 18 percent of mothers reported that they were diagnosed with depression during and/or after pregnancy, with a higher prevalence among mothers in lower-income families, racial minorities, mothers under age 20, and mothers without a high-school diploma. [See link below to ConvergenceRI story, “Screening and treating maternal depression in RI.”]

Under the new statewide program, real-time psychiatric telehealth consultation services are available for health care providers, Monday through Friday, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., staffed by a team of perinatal behavioral health experts from the Center for Women’s Behavioral Health. They are available to help with diagnosis, treatment planning and medication management for pregnant and post-partum patients.

“We want to make sure that all babies, moms, and families in every ZIP code in Rhode Island have an equal opportunity to be healthy,” said Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott, director of the R.I. Department of Health. “The most common medical complication of childbirth is depression,” she continued. “It is crucial that we equip health care providers in Rhode Island with the tools and resources they need to support women during this critical phase. Connection is everything.”

Depression symptoms in the perinatal period can range from a sad mood and loss of interest in activities to feelings of worthlessness, problems in concentrating or making decisions, and changes in eating or sleep, according to the R.I. Department of Health. There is also growing evidence that perinatal substance use is increasing.

“Perinatal mood and substance use disorders are highly treatable,” said Margaret Howard, the director of Center for Women’s Behavioral Health. “Rhode Island is fortunate to have a robust community of perinatal mental health experts, unique programming at the Center, and services at the Day Hospital at Women & Infants Hospital.”

However, Howard continued, there is still a need for more specialized providers. The new program, RI MomsPRN, “is designed to build provider capacity in treating mild to moderate cases of perinatal mood complications and to prioritize specialty resources for high-risk women with more complex conditions.”

In addition, the team at RI MomsPRN can also help to identify community-based resources, such as mental health care, recovery services, support groups, and other case-dependent resources for pregnant and postpartum patients, according to Howard.


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