Dartmouth-Hitchcock Launches New Postpartum Screening Program Amid COVID-19 to Combat Depression and Anxiety

New mom holding baby

This initiative has been critical to improving patient care, and was completely driven by Heather. It demonstrates the remarkable achievements that can result from dedicated staff engagement.

Erik Shessler, MD, an associate medical director for CHaD and chapter president of the New Hampshire Pediatric Society.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, new mothers are more isolated than ever without the hands-on support of family and friends. Postpartum anxiety, depression and suicide risk are always a concern for new mothers, but the pandemic has increased their likelihood. Mothers are screened in the hospital after birth and again at their six-to-eight week postpartum OB/GYN checkup. But there’s a big gap between delivery and seeing their provider, and many changes can happen.

To address this gap in care, Dartmouth-Hitchcock (D-H) locations in Manchester and Bedford have successfully launched a new postpartum depression screening program for mothers of newborns at two-week, two-month, four-month and six-month newborn visits.

Using a secure tablet, new mothers confidentially complete the screening questionnaire based on the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale for their baby’s pediatrician to review at the beginning of each visit. If the screening results positive for postpartum depression, their pediatrician starts a conversation asking if the mother has contacted her OB/GYN or primary care provider, and whether she has a mental health provider. If the mother does not have one, D-H refers them to a local mental health provider.

The program was inspired by Heather Ann Martin, RMA, a medical assistant at Children’s Hospital at Dartmouth-Hitchcock (CHaD), who lost a sister to suicide because of postpartum psychosis. As a result, suicide prevention has become a passion project for Martin. She is a regular participant in the National Alliance on Mental Illness New Hampshire (NAMI NH) annual conference and serves as an ambassador for 2020 Mom.

“This initiative has been critical to improving patient care, and was completely driven by Heather,” said Erik Shessler, MD, an associate medical director for CHaD and chapter president of the New Hampshire Pediatric Society. “It demonstrates the remarkable achievements that can result from dedicated staff engagement.”

Before COVID-19, CHaD pediatricians typically made one call to mothers every other week. Since March, CHaD pediatricians are making two or three calls a week, as there has been a significant increase in positive screens due to the isolation, lack of sleep and natural hormonal imbalances attributed to postpartum experience during a pandemic.

For online postpartum depression resources, visit 2020mom.org and Postpartum Support International at postpartum.net.

About Dartmouth-Hitchcock Health

Dartmouth-Hitchcock Health (D-HH), New Hampshire’s only academic health system and the state’s largest private employer, serves a population of 1.9 million across northern New England. D-HH provides access to more than 2,000 providers in almost every area of medicine, delivering care at its flagship hospital, Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center (DHMC) in Lebanon, NH. DHMC was named again in 2020 as the #1 hospital in New Hampshire by U.S. News & World Report, and recognized for high performance in 9 clinical specialties and procedures. Dartmouth-Hitchcock Health includes the Norris Cotton Cancer Center, one of only 51 NCI-designated Comprehensive Cancer Centers in the nation Children's Hospital at Dartmouth-Hitchcock, the state’s only children’s hospital; member hospitals in Lebanon, Keene, and New London, NH, and Windsor, VT, and Visiting Nurse and Hospice for Vermont and New Hampshire; and 24 Dartmouth-Hitchcock clinics that provide ambulatory services across New Hampshire and Vermont. The D-HH system trains nearly 400 residents and fellows annually, and performs world-class research, in partnership with the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth and the White River Junction VA Medical Center in White River Junction, VT.

About CHaD

As New Hampshire's only full service, comprehensive children's hospital, the Children's Hospital at Dartmouth‐Hitchcock (CHaD) is committed to providing outstanding compassionate care for children and their families. Their physician expertise provides primary, specialty, and tertiary care to the children of New Hampshire, Vermont, and beyond. CHaD offers inpatient (hospital care) and outpatient (same day care) services at Dartmouth‐Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, NH. Outpatient and same day surgery services are available at Dartmouth‐Hitchcock Manchester, as well as outpatient pediatric specialties at Wentworth‐Douglass Hospital, Dover and in Exeter. Primary care is available at Dartmouth‐Hitchcock facilities in Bedford, Concord, Keene, Lebanon, Manchester, and Nashua, NH, and Bennington, VT. For more information about CHaD, please visit www.chadkids.org or contact us at (603) 650‐KIDS or chad.community.relations@hitchcock.org.