In May 2022, a new virtual maternal mental health clinic approached Virginia Physicians for Women with a mission to make high-quality mental health care more accessible for new and expecting mothers. Seven Starling noted how depression and anxiety rates among this demographic had skyrocketed since the pandemic and shared the astonishing research findings that 75% of women with postpartum depression do not receive any treatment.
The founders of Seven Starling identified a major shortfall in the health care system: physicians didn’t have a fast and reliable way to refer their patients to quality mental health services. Their new online clinic solved that problem with a one-step referral process that guaranteed patients would be seen within a week of being referred. The providers and staff at VPFW quickly embraced the new, efficient way of getting their OB and postpartum patients access to quality mental health care when they needed it.
VPFW Recognized for Entire Practice’s Commitment to Maternal Mental Health
One year later, Seven Starling created the Maternal Mental Health Advocacy Award to recognize and celebrate those who have an incredible commitment to maternal mental health and go the extra mile to get patients the care they need. They decided to present the inaugural award to VPFW.
“This award is for the entire practice – the front office, triage and nursing staff, referral coordinators, providers, and administrators alike,” said Carly Bravo, CNM, head of provider partnerships at Seven Starling. She praised the outstanding culture of patient mental health advocacy that VPFW has nurtured across the organization.
How VPFW Connects Patients With the Maternal Mental Health Care They Need
Carly noted that most individual obstetricians recognize the importance of mental health, but that data from Healthcare Effectiveness Data and Information Set (HEDIS) shows less than 20% of postpartum women are screened. Moreover, half of those who screen positive receive no follow up. She spoke with members of VPFW’s administration, providers, and staff to learn how the practice has been able to remove barriers and seamlessly connect patients with the care they need at Seven Starling.
“What components are built into your system at VPFW that allow such a high percentage of your providers to not only prioritize mental health, but for the team to take those extra steps to getting patients connected?” Carly asked VPFW’s Dr. Allison Giles, who is particularly passionate about ensuring mental health is addressed for OB patients.
“It really has to do with the organization putting a standard in place.VPFW implemented universal screening of patients at every postpartum visit, whether it is a wound check at 1-week, a standard 2-week follow up, or a final OB visit at 6 weeks postpartum,” said Dr. Giles.
VPFW’s front office gives the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale (EPDS) questionnaire, a screening tool that can help identify symptoms of depression and anxiety during pregnancy and the postpartum period, to all postpartum patients as they are checked in. The front desk team members also ensure that doctors have resources accessible. The triage nurses check for the EPDS screeners while taking vitals and rooming patients.
“They all know if there is an EPDS score above 10, or any other concern, to bring it to the doctor’s attention. The doctors talk about it more or less depending on who they are, but having a resource to actually help the patient makes the conversation so much easier.”
Doctors can refer patients to Seven Starling by faxing an easy pre-filled referral form, and patients are given a postcard with a QR code that takes them straight to the appointment scheduling calendar. There, they can book an individual telehealth appointment with Seven Starling before they even leave VPFW’s office.
Dr. Giles also mentioned how the administrators at VPFW have helped make sure the process is standardized. “You can’t make 38 individual providers uniform in their discussions with patients. But since everyone from the front office to the clinical areas knows the standard process, it doesn’t matter how busy the schedules get or which provider a patient sees. The nurses also know how and where to send patients, so it is just easier for the clinicians to be in compliance.”
Talking to Patients About Mental Health
Twenty percent of women experience anxiety or depression during pregnancy and the first year after having a baby. When Carly asked how Dr. Giles personally talks with her patients about mental health, Dr. Giles said she tries to let them know how awful it can be and meet them where they are, often in a space of loneliness. “I am personally comfortable sharing my own experience as a new mom and how it felt.”
Dr. Giles also asks questions that give her patients room to open up. “‘Tell me about how it really is? Who’s not helping? What’s not working?’ I try to normalize how many people find feeding and sleeping hard, and just validate what they are feeling.”
If someone does need help, Dr. Giles talks to them in a way that shows them that using medication or therapy does not define who they are or make them a failure in any way.
“Rather, it’s giving you back a bit of your old self. I try to frame it as less of a dramatic step, because even though people are talking about mental health a lot more these days, there’s still a stigma out there and a pressure on moms that everything is their fault.”
Getting Maternal Mental Health Care from Seven Starling
VPFW is honored to receive the first ever Maternal Mental Health Advocacy Award from Seven Starling and is thrilled to have such a wonderful resource to refer patients to if and when they need support.
Seven Starling is a virtual maternal mental health clinic that provides convenient, virtual care from a diverse group of licensed therapists for women in every stage of motherhood. They support patients experiencing anxiety, depression, and/or trauma during fertility challenges, after miscarriage or loss, throughout pregnancy and the postpartum period, and during early parenthood.
Seven Starling’s licensed therapists are all committed specifically to the perinatal population and can route patients to psychiatry services for medication as needed. Weekly therapy alternates between individual sessions and group therapy so patients build a community of support and can see they are not going through these challenges alone.
You can schedule a free consultation with a Seven Starling care coordinator to discuss your goals and preferences for therapy, get a free benefits check to see what your insurance covers, and sign up for therapy if you’re ready.
‘Why the Name “Seven Starling?”
We had to ask why the organization is named Seven Starling, and Carly enlightened us: “Starlings are birds that flock in groups of seven. The organization is about being together and finding that lift.”