MU School of Medicine Launching Program to Increase Access to Perinatal Mental Health Care for New Moms

tired mom holding baby
Federal and state funding will support new Missouri Perinatal Psychiatry Access Project.

Mental health factors, such a depression, anxiety, suicide and substance abuse are among the leading underlying causes of maternal death nationally according to the CDC. In Missouri, mental health conditions were the leading underlying cause of pregnancy-related deaths, contributing to roughly a third of all maternal deaths.

Even as awareness of the link between mental health factors and maternal mortality grows, access to care, especially in rural Missouri, remains problematic. Now, a team from the University of Missouri is launching a program to make mental health care more accessible for pregnant and new moms throughout the state.

The University of Missouri School of Medicine was recently awarded a five-year $3.37 million federal grant from the Health Resources and Services Administration and a $1.5 million contract through the Missouri Department of Health & Senior Services to implement a program designed to reduce maternal mortality in Missouri through access to perinatal psychiatric care.

The University of Missouri has a strong track record of success filling mental health care coverage gaps. Started in 2018, the School of Medicine’s Missouri Child Psychiatry Access Project, or MO-CPAP, has delivered more than 2,000 child psychiatry consultations to providers throughout the state. Now, the same team from MU is expanding their offerings to include mental health care for pregnant and new moms. The Maternal Health Access Project will build on the success of MO-CPAP in delivering access to mental health care in traditionally underserved communities.

Laine Young Walker, MD
Laine Young Walker, MD

“Addressing mental health for pregnant and new moms begins in the primary care setting and this program is designed to give those providers access to the tools they need to respond,” said Laine Young-Walker, MD, chair of psychiatry at the University of Missouri School of Medicine and principal investigator. “This program represents a significant opportunity to make positive progress on the leading cause of maternal mortality in our state.”

As with the MO-CPAP program, the new Maternal Health Access Project will help primary care providers treat and manage behavioral health needs for pregnant and new moms through virtual expert consultations available with as little as 30 minutes notice. Follow-up care coordination will help providers connect patients with appropriate community-based behavioral health care options. Primary care providers that enroll with the program have access to ongoing educational opportunities and support. Using the power of the Missouri Telehealth Network, providers can receive behavioral health skills training, often including continuing medical education credits.

“Providers who enroll in the program will have access to free expert consultations, referrals to community-based resources, ongoing education and care coordination,” said Wendy Ell, Executive Director of the program for the University of Missouri. “As with our successful MO-CPAP program, all of this is offered at no cost to our participating providers and clinicians.”

The Maternal Health Access Project is offered through the University of Missouri School of Medicine as a collaborative partnership that includes the Missouri Telehealth Network, Behavioral Health Network of Greater St. Louis, Behavioral Health Network, Generate Health, SSM Health and the Washington University Perinatal Behavioral Health Service. The federal grant is part of a cooperative agreement with the Missouri Department of Mental Health.