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New Program Aims To Help Opioid-Addicted Expectant Mothers With One-Stop Care

Medical experts at Allegheny Health Network have launched a program aimed at ensuring successful outcomes for expectant mothers addicted to drugs or alcohol and their newborn babies.

Though multiple agencies provide help for new mothers battling opioid addiction, and their babies, having to travel between providers and locations can make it difficult for them to access care.

But a new initiative launched at Allegheny Health Network aims to streamline that access to care. Members of the development team said the Perinatal Hope Program will provide a one-stop-shop of care for mothers-to-be.

Allan Klapper, network chair of OBGYN for AHN, said combining all disciplines of medical service will improve the outcomes for pregnant patients and their babies.

“Right now, they’re traveling from provider to provider,” Klapper said. “Having it all under one roof and one center and having the centers strategically placedthroughout the region will make it convenient for patients to come in.”

The program is currently available at West Penn Hospital in Bloomfield, with plans to branch out to affiliate AHN hospitals in Allegheny County.

The program includes prenatal care, on-site assessments and counseling, and postpartum care.

Pregnancy is a very unique time in a woman's life in that they're motivated to improve. - Mark Caine, Director of Labor and Delivery at Allegheny Health Network

“We’re looking at the individual woman from beginning to end and that doesn’t end with her pregnancy,” said Deb McDonald, AHN women’s health program director. “We really want to make sure that they’re successful afterwards and give them the best possible chance.”

McDonald said education will be central to the program. Lactation specialists will talk to new mothers about breastfeeding and an anesthesiologist will consult on pain control techniques.

“We’re also going to have the neonatologist come in and talk about what to expect with the babies and how to handle them afterward,” McDonald said.

Babies born to drug-addicted mothers are more likely to develop Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome, or NAS, meaning the infant could be dependent on the drug after birth. Newborns with NAS go through a period of withdrawal, resulting in long hospital stays.

But post-partum care will also be essential to the mothers’ success, said McDonald. In the past 15 years, the Pennsylvania Health Care Cost Containment Council reported the rate of neonatal hospital stays related to drug or alcohol addiction has risen by 250 percent.

Credit Katie Blackley / 90.5 WESA
90.5 WESA
Representatives from Allegheny Health Network and the Western PA March of Dimes chapter display a check from which funds will go toward the hospital system's new program for maternal addiction treatment.

“We know that’s a high risk period with all of the changes, so we want to stay on top of it with them and help them,” McDonald said. “From there, we’re going to do a warm handoff into the community with their PCP and other subutex providers, or they may continue on with methadone.”

Subutex and methadoneare both used to treat narcotic addictions.

Mark Caine, medical director of labor and specialist in maternal-fetal medicine, said the hospital system has partnered with the local Mobile Momschapter. The group transports pregnant women to and from doctor’s appointments for no fee.

Caine said, while it’s unfortunate that so many expectant mothers require treatment, the pregnancy period is the best time to “kick” the addiction.

“Pregnancy is a very unique time in a woman’s life in that they’re motivated to improve,” Caine said. “By trying to put everything tighter, our hope is that we can help as many patients as possible.”

UPMC has a similar program, the Pregnancy Recovery Center, which opened its doors in 2014. PRC takes a "four-pronged approach" to caring for women struggling with addiction, including prenatal and OB care and opioid maintenance therapy. 

The Western Pennsylvania March of Dimes donated $19,545 to the Maternal Addictions Program at AHN to help fund the initiative.

Katie Blackley is a digital editor/producer for 90.5 WESA and 91.3 WYEP, where she writes, edits and generates both web and on-air content for features and daily broadcast. She's the producer and host of our Good Question! series and podcast. She also covers history and the LGBTQ community.