Jan 22, 2024 RWJBarnabas Health Observes 2024 Maternal Health Awareness Day

Health System Continues to Raise Awareness and Builds Access to Services for Perinatal Substance Use Disorder

mother and baby

West Orange, NJ, January 19, 2024 – RWJBarnabas Health, the health system that delivers the most babies in New Jersey, joins the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG) in observing Maternal Health Awareness Day on January 23, 2024.

The ACOG theme for the 2024 Maternal Health Awareness Day, “Access in Crisis,” focuses on the challenges women and families face when there is limited or no access to maternity care and other services needed to support a healthy pregnancy, birth and recovery.

Substance use and substance use disorders during pregnancy are associated with obstetric and neonatal adverse outcomes and are the leading cause of pregnancy-associated deaths in New Jersey, according to the most recent New Jersey Maternal Mortality report. According to Suzanne Spernal, Senior Vice President of Women’s Services at RWJBarnabas Health and Co-Chair of the N.J. Perinatal Quality Collaborative, a multi-year initiative funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, pregnant and postpartum women still experience unique barriers to access to treatment for substance use disorder despite many positive changes.

“Providers want to support their patients, but often feel they are not equipped with the appropriate training and resources to address the complex and challenging needs of women and families impacted by addiction,” she says. “Additionally, we know that stigma is a major factor that creates even greater barriers to care. A recent national study found that women are more likely to report stigma as a barrier to treatment compared with men.”

To meet these needs, RWJBarnabas Health is creating a training program to improve the recognition, treatment and referral of perinatal substance use disorder. “We are bringing all our experts together — including the voices of women with lived experience — to design a patient-centered integrated care model that improves engagement and retention of pregnant and parenting women in substance use disorder treatment programs, ultimately taking significant steps to reduce stigma and barriers to care,” Spernal says.

“The first step to decreasing mortality is for providers to recognize substance use disorder as a medical condition that can be treated in our very own hospitals and offices,” says Dr. Alexis LaPietra, Director of Addiction Medicine, RWJBarnabas Health, and Medical Director of the RWJBarnabas Health Institute for Prevention and Recovery (IFPR). “This starts with education and empathy, which both directly address stigma.”

The IFPR was awarded one of two nearly $1 million federal maternal health grants to address substance use issues during pregnancy and the postpartum period, with the goal of reducing related maternal deaths. As part of a one of its kind program design, IFPR’s maternal health program builds upon the successes of peer-based support from Peer Recovery Specialists for individuals with substance use disorder by employing Maternal Health Recovery Specialists who have also been trained as doulas.

Spernal points to the recent success story of a mom who was connected to IFPR’s services through the grant program at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital (RWJUH) New Brunswick.

“The Maternal Health Recovery Specialist was able to build a trusting, stigma-free relationship with the patient, who utilized all of the services offered to her, including attending the Mom’s Healing Together All Recovery Meeting,” she said. “When the patient experienced a crisis in her last trimester, the IFPR team responded and ensured she was seen by familiar providers who knew her history. They advocated for her and adjustments were made to her treatment plan using a shared decision-making approach so she could be safely discharged to home. After five months of support from the program’s care team, she delivered a healthy baby boy this past December. This would not have been possible without the peer-based support offered to this Mom.”

RWJBarnabas Health has received numerous national accolades for its maternal health services and outcomes, including U.S. News & World Report recognition among the 2023-2024 Best Hospitals for Maternity Care for Cooperman Barnabas Medical Center (CBMC), Monmouth Medical Center (MMC), and RWJUH New Brunswick and Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital Somerset. The system has also implemented structured, evidence-based models of care for supporting healthy moms, babies and families throughout the pregnancy journey, including mental health care.

  • Centering Pregnancy — clinically led group prenatal care that brings together moms with similar due dates to support healthy pregnancies and babies — was launched at CBMC and Newark Beth Israel Medical Center and will be available at RWJUH New Brunswick in the spring.
  • TeamBirth NJ, a national program to support better provider and patient communication to enhance the birthing experience and improve outcomes for moms and their babies, was launched in 2022 at CBMC and MMC and will be expanded to include RWJUH New Brunswick and Jersey City Medical Center.
  • The RWJBarnabas Health Center for Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders, a state first that opened at MMC in 2017 and expanded to the Anne Vogel Family Care and Wellness Center in Eatontown and a second location at CBMC in Livingston to increase access to care for those affected by this No. 1 most common complication of childbirth.

If you or someone you know is pregnant or postpartum with substance use disorder and in need of support services, please contact our maternal health team at 848-303-0008. To reach the Center for Perinatal Mood & Anxiety Disorders in Eatontown, call 862.781.3755 and in Livingston, call 973.322.9501. To learn more about comprehensive maternal health services available through RWJBarnabas Health, visit rwjbh.org/womenshealth.

About RWJBarnabas Health
RWJBarnabas Health is the largest, most comprehensive academic health care system in New Jersey, with a service area covering eight counties with five million people. The system includes twelve acute care hospitals – Clara Maass Medical Center in Belleville, Community Medical Center in Toms River, Cooperman Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston, Jersey City Medical Center in Jersey City, Monmouth Medical Center in Long Branch, Monmouth Medical Center Southern Campus in Lakewood, Newark Beth Israel Medical Center in Newark, Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick, Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital Somerset in Somerville, Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital Hamilton in Hamilton, Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital Rahway in Rahway and Trinitas Regional Medical Center in Elizabeth, three acute care children’s hospitals, Children’s Specialized Hospital with a network of outpatient pediatric rehabilitation centers, a freestanding 100-bed behavioral health center, two trauma centers, a satellite emergency department, ambulatory care centers, geriatric centers, the state’s largest behavioral health network, comprehensive home care and hospice programs, fitness and wellness centers, retail pharmacy services, affiliated medical groups, multi-site imaging centers and two accountable care organizations.

RWJBarnabas Health is among New Jersey’s largest private employers – with more than 38,000 employees and 9,000 physicians– and routinely captures national awards for outstanding quality and safety. RWJBarnabas Health launched an affiliation with Rutgers University to create New Jersey’s largest academic health care system. The collaboration aligns RWJBarnabas Health with Rutgers' education, research and clinical activities, including those at the Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey - the state's only NCI-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center - and Rutgers University Behavioral Health Care.

For more information visit www.rwjbh.org/maternalhealth.