New project connects pregnant women with mental health care

A new program in Milwaukee is helping pregnant women and new mothers with mental health needs.

The Periscope Project launched in July and connects doctors almost instantly with psychiatrists, to address a gap in mental health care for expecting mothers.

This is a unique project, one of only two in the country. Since it launched, about 150 providers in the greater Milwaukee area have signed on.

Several providers at the Sixteenth Street Clinic on the city's south side have contacted the project since its launch, including Tracy Herrmann, the director of midwifery

"We have a lot of patients coming in everyday with a lot of different needs," she said.

Some of those needs are mental health issues or substance abuse issues.

"When you're struggling and you're dealing with a pregnancy or a newborn and you have these additional issues, you need the simplest and the quickest help you can you get," she said.

With the Periscope Project, Herrmann can now call with any questions regarding her patients, and a specialized psychiatrist will return her call within 30 minutes, often while the patients are waiting in the office.

The Periscope Project was launched by the Medical College of Wisconsin on July 1. Dr. Christina Wichman is the director of the project and one of only four psychiatrists in the state who specialize in treating pregnant women.

"We recognize that we're never going to have enough providers to be able to care for all of those women," she said. "So how do we get that knowledge and expertise from the few of us who do practice to all of the providers who are caring for these women."

Before the project launched, Herrmann says she would have to write a referral for her patient to see a specialist. That can take weeks and sometimes her patients don't have the means to travel far for appointments.

With this project, doctors like Wichman can now offer their expertise to any provider who picks up the phone.

"We talk through what those patients symptoms are, what her mental health history is, what medication she's done best on in the past," said Wichman.

Wichman says 15 percent of women struggle with postpartum depression. That number increases in areas with a higher minority population.

"Our goal is to be able to make this service available to any health care provider across the state of Wisconsin who is caring for perinatal women," she said.

This project is funded by a $1.2 million grant from the United Health Foundation and a $200,000 grant from the State of Wisconsin.

The funding insures that it will continue for at least three years but Wichman says she will work to continue it far after that.

The service is free for providers and patients.
 

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