A healthy pregnancy requires a woman to seek the best care possible, and that now includes help with behavioral health problems, such as mental illness and substance use disorders.

The Meadowlark Initiative, sponsored by the Montana Department of Health and Human Services and the Montana Healthcare Foundation has teamed up with 11 hospitals and healthcare centers around the state to offer behavioral health services to pregnant and postpartum women and their families.

Montana Healthcare Foundation CEO Dr. Aaron Wernham provides details of the initiative.

“This is really just a much better way to provide prenatal care,” said Dr. Wernham. “It recognizes that many pregnant women struggle with problems like depression or anxiety, or substance use disorders, such as using drugs and alcohol. It has been historically very hard to find good care for that. This initiative wraps up all that in one place, so you’ve got a prenatal care provider working hand in hand with a behavioral health provider to give team-based care through the pregnancy and after.”

Wernham said the initiative became necessary when healthcare providers began running into serious health issues with pregnant women and before and after the babies were born.

“There were very few drug and alcohol treatment programs that offered any services for pregnant woman,” he said. “We were hearing a lot of hospitals saying they were delivering babies that were drug exposed or affected by alcohol. These are hard problems to quit on your own, so we looked around the country and found some programs that were having good success by helping moms get into treatment to delivery a healthy baby.”

Wernham said the Meadowlark Initiative is now established in every major city in the state.

“We’re working with every community that has a hospital that delivers babies, and trying to find at least one prenatal practice that’s willing to take on a behavioral health provider and then offer hand-in-hand team-based care,” he said. “The hospitals in Missoula have really gone all in. Both Community Medical Center and Providence St. Patrick Hospital have programs that started up over this past year, so both of them are now offering that team-based care. They’re taking it seriously that depression and addiction are common problems. There are many women who are affected at some level at all ages in Montana, so screening and treating them just makes good sense.”

Wernham said there is a strong push to get rural hospitals and healthcare providers to become members in the initiative, as well.