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Launching a New Model for Integrating Maternal and Pediatric Care

Health centers often work to integrate aspects of care to provide comprehensive services, but few have gone as far as a site run by Cherokee Health Systems in Tennessee. 

Cherokee is pioneering a care model for mothers and children that spans the entire prenatal and postnatal period, integrating pediatrics, maternal care, OB-GYN and mental health services. 

The first step involved bringing diverse staff together in a facility that had previously hosted a pediatrics unit, said Dr. Ashley Breazeale, a psychologist at Cherokee. “We’re all in close proximity,” she said. This change allowed mental health staff to connect with parents who came in for prenatal visits – a time when many parents, especially first-time parents – may deal with anxiety. “We care about the family unit as a whole. We go into every prenatal visit,” Breazeale said. 

This approach helps staff to address any emerging problems in both the physical and mental health realms. 

Dr. Sarah Beth Eriksen, a pediatrician and breastfeeding medicine specialist, said the switch to more integrated care works better overall, and helps patients who would otherwise have to make multiple trips to see different specialists. “It was a huge benefit and blessing to the families.” 

Both Breazeale and Eriksen are mothers who had challenges with breastfeeding their children, and lactation support has become one of Cherokee’s strong points. Breastfeeding is beneficial for children and mothers alike. Eriksen noted that for mothers, it reduces cardiovascular risks for life and reduces breast and ovarian cancer risks. The center also collaborates with mothers who are concerned about taking medicine while they are nursing. Some women believe they should avoid breastfeeding if they take any prescription medicines at all, but some are perfectly safe, Eriksen said. “There’s a lot of misinformation.” 

Most women are interested in breastfeeding, and Breazeale said the health center is well prepared to meet their needs. “If they want to breastfeed, we can set them up for success.”