Improving access to healthcare for mothers

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As a mother, accessing healthcare and attending appointments can be challenging. The stress and associated costs of finding childcare and appropriate transportation can result in missed appointments and extended gaps in healthcare. However, two programs at Women’s College Hospital (WCH)- Mother Matters and Stella’s Playroom- are aimed at alleviating that burden and improving for mothers, especially those suffering from mental health issues.

Both Mother Matters and Stella’s Playroom were created with the intent of getting mothers the help they need, when they need it. Mother Matters does this by giving new moms a forum to speak to a health care professional and their peers about issues such as post-partum depression and anxiety – all from the comfort and privacy of their own home.

“The many challenges that new mothers face, both physical and mental, are not easy to talk about without fear of judgment,” says Greer Slyfield Cook, Social Worker/Mental Health Therapist in the Reproductive Life Stages program, in the Women’s Mental Health Program at WCH. “There is still a stigma associated with saying that motherhood is hard and may not be the best time of your life. That is why it is so important to have an outlet where new moms can speak to one another while knowing their privacy is protected.”

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The program, which runs two 10-week online sessions a year, is facilitated by two WCH therapists. Each week, readings about topics relevant to the transition to motherhood are posted in the private forum and discussion questions are posed to the group. Through these discussion threads, the therapists are able to provide clinical support and education to patients. Patients can also start their own threads regarding their own concerns and get support from their peers.

All participants have the option of using their real name, or choosing an alias if they want their identity to remain private. The 24/7 online access means that the forums can be accessed at any time, whether during the day or in the middle of the night after a late feeding.

Womens COllege 3“Being involved in Mother Matters has been an awesome way to stay connected to other mothers, especially when it’s difficult to leave your house in -30 Celsius weather with a new baby,” says Jane Smith*, a past patient of the program. “I felt that sometimes other people didn’t understand what it was like to be a new mom in this day and age. Being in a small northern Ontario community has some unique challenges, so being a part of Mother Matters has been a great way to get that experience from your own home at a time that is good for you.”

One of the program’s objectives is to ensure that there is a noticeable improvement in patients’ mental state and in their risk for post-partum depression. To monitor this, each patient is asked to complete an Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale before and after the program. In the last four rounds, results have shown a consistent 50 per cent improvement of potential risk factors, proving that Mother Matters is dramatically reducing the chances of new moms developing such depression.

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Stella’s playroom targets a different issue that many parents face when trying to access healthcare- finding childcare.

“As a patient, when you go to an appointment you want to be able to give your full attention and listen to what your doctor is saying. But when you have a bored or tired child at your feet asking for attention, it’s hard to think about anything else,” says Laura Carson, a Kids and Company RECE and Centre Director for Stella’s Playroom. “With Stella’s Playroom, patients can drop off their children and attend their appointment, knowing that their child is taken care of by a registered early childhood educator, just a few feet away.”

The free program offers activities such as puzzles, games, books, arts and crafts and imaginative play for children up to the age of 13. Patients of WCH can book an appointment for their children for up to two hours while they attend appointments at the hospital. The program also accepts drop-offs if there is room.

Although the program’s services were initially only offered to patients of WCH’s Women’s Mental Health and Headache programs, it soon expanded to all patients of the hospital.

WOmens College 4“Once we saw the positive effects that Stella’s Playroom was having on children, parents and health care providers, we knew we had to expand,” says Carson. “We are constantly having parents thank us and tell us what a relief it is to have such accessible care for their children. We’ve also had doctors who have seen improvements during appointments, particularly when it comes to the attentiveness of the patients. It’s an amazing feeling to know that we are able to help moms who need help.”

For the teams that run both Stella’s Playroom and Mother Matters, the hope is that awareness of their services grow and that patients continue to reap the benefits.

For more information about other services offered at Women’s College Hospital, please visit www.womenscollegehospital.ca