A Santa Clarita Valley advocacy group for mothers is pushing for legislation that would mandate mental health screening for new and expecting mothers.
The group 2020 Mom, led by founder and Executive Director Joy Burkhard, is leading a mission to “close gaps in maternal mental health care by the year 2020.”
The legislation, AB 2193, follows a report that notes what many in the health care community have known: “…screening done in conjunction with interventions that target patient, provider and practice-level barriers are associated with increased improved rates of depression detection, assessment, referral, and treatment in perinatal care settings.”
The report recommended a strategic plan for the state, which is what this most recent maternal mental health bill is looking to create.
“It does two things,” Burkhard said, “it mandates that health insurers to create case management programs for their contracted providers… the second component is then mandating that a doctor or an Ob-Gyn test or screen for these disorders.”
The endgame for the health care system is expected to be a more than $2.2 billion savings, according to Burkhard, citing the Legislature’s study.
The need is there. But the funding and priorities have been an issue in the past.
At this stage of the bill, there’s no current analysis by the Legislative Analyst’s Office, which provides funding impacts for legislation, but health care officials have expressed concerns regarding outcomes in a recent look at the bill on NPR. For example, assuming the mandatory screening finds a concern — there’s no guarantee of support for those concerns, or a system in place to address them. While diagnosis is critical, knowing is really only half the battle.
Local public health officials said there’s been progress to address the need for resources through community partnerships, and in the Santa Clarita Valley, for example, Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital has been a big supporter of the bill.
“(Cost) has been a bit of a barrier in the past,” said Elizabeth Tarantini, an LCFW and perinatal social worker in the hospital’s Women’s Services department, “but we’re working on developing stronger connections, like with the Department of Mental Health, and their clinical leadership… they has been very supportive in addressing these issues.”
Tarantini also noted while there’s still a big stigma around mental health concerns in general that have created challenges in getting people the health they need, the hospital has been supportive of bills such as AB 2193 that provide preventive action and outreach for the community.
Addressing a mother’s mental health is a service that can have a positive domino effect, Tarantini added.
“It also affects the mental health of the child,” she said, regarding postpartum care, and spreading that message is an important part of what the hospital is trying to do. “Henry Mayo is doing a tremendous job of bringing postpartum mental health issues out of the shadows.”
Because the pace of the medical community to change and adapt to clinical studies can be a 20-year process, Burkhard called her goal of having aggressive, 2021, “aggressive,” but something that needs to happen.
“We’re normalizing this, we’re affirming that it’s a real medical, biological condition… the brain is just as much as part of the body as the heart, but it isn’t treated the same way,” Burkhard said. “It’s not going to be perfect, but we have to start somewhere and we really feel like the time is now.”