UA College of Medicine-Tucson launches new Arizona Perinatal Psychiatry Access Line

June 1, 2023
Dr Kathryn Emerick

Watch the interview online

TUCSON, Ariz. (13 News) - On June 1, the University of Arizona College of Medicine-Tucson launched a new perinatal psychiatry access line for Arizona healthcare providers caring for pregnant and postpartum women experiencing mental health conditions.

Every year in Arizona, more than 70 women die of pregnancy related causes, and the leading contributor is psychiatric illness. Doctors say 98% of these deaths are preventable, but 80% of them do not have the proper care.

“We can prevent those deaths but the problem is access to care,” Dr. Kathryn Emerick, perinatal psychiatrist with the University of Arizona College of Medicine-Tucson and co-director of APPAL. “We just don’t have the number of psychiatrists in Arizona and we definitely don’t have the number of perinatal psychiatrists in Arizona to meet that need. So APPAL is really designed to like bridge that gap.”

Nearly 15,000 Arizonans suffer from postpartum mood and anxiety disorders each year. If left untreated, they can result in higher rates of maternal mortality.

This new hotline is designed to be a resource for health care providers who lack the training and resources to safely address the mental health needs of their patients.

“Any medical provider of any specialty anywhere in the state can call and be directly connected with a perinatal psychiatrist, who can provide information, answer questions and help them come up with a plan so that these 12,000 women every year can get the care that they need,” said Emerick.

Emerick added that this line will play an important role during the pregnancy stage. It will be especially helpful for women who are hesitant to take medications to receive the proper advice.

“Helping provide medical practitioners with the information about the known risks of both of those things, is really important,” said Emerick. “So that pregnant people, breastfeeding people really understand the risks that they’re taking on, but also recognizing that there are lots of times where taking medication is the most protective thing that they can do for themselves.”

Emerick also said it is critical for individuals who are living in rural areas since they are more at risk than those living in urban centers.

“There’s no one even to refer them to, if you could get them in. So having a statewide line where any provider anywhere in the state can call and be connected to perinatal psychiatrist, our hope is that it is going to bring access to perinatal psychiatry to the entire state,” said Emerick.

“We know that untreated psychiatric illness in the postpartum period is associated with a lot of really practical issues like loss of work opportunities, increased medical needs,” said Emerick. “There’s a whole bunch of stuff happening in the postpartum period that makes it really important that we treat and we protect moms during this time.”

Emerick added that why this line is for providers, she wants patients to know they can be comfortable bringing up their concerns to them knowing they access and get advice to get proper support.

APPAL’s toll-free number, 1-888-290-1336 and is now live. It will be open Monday through Friday from 12:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. through December 2023, and from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. starting in January 2024.

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