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Allegheny Health Network, Alexis Joy D’Achille Foundation Celebrate Opening of “Game-Changing” Center for Perinatal Mental Health

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

West Penn Hospital facility, unique in the region, offers new hope for women with pregnancy-related depression and anxiety disorders

PITTSBURGH – Allegheny Health Network (AHN) and the Alexis Joy D’Achille Foundation today celebrated the grand opening of The Alexis Joy D’Achille Center for Perinatal Mental Health at West Penn Hospital, an innovative new facility that offers women with pregnancy-related depression access to a spectrum of family-focused care options under one roof.

The 7,300-square-foot, $2.5 million center is designed so that mothers can stay with their babies while undergoing treatment. The facility houses rooms for individual therapy as well as space for Intensive Outpatient care - a three-hours-daily, three-day-a-week program that focuses on group therapy, mother-child bonding and complementary modalities for stress relief, such as yoga and mediation. The center will also offer child care services for older children, addressing a major barrier to care for women.

It is estimated that one in seven new mothers experiences clinically significant depression or anxiety during or after her pregnancy. One such mother was Alexis Joy D’Achille, who tragically took her own life six weeks after the birth of her daughter, Adriana, in 2013.  Alexis’ husband, Steven D’Achille, started the Alexis Joy D’Achille Foundation in his wife’s memory, vowing to raise awareness and find new ways to combat postpartum depression.  He found partners in Allegheny Health Network (AHN) and Highmark Health and together they began working on a new paradigm for treatment of this common and debilitating illness.

“Alexis was loved deeply by family and friends alike. She had so looked forward to meeting Adriana, and becoming a mother,” D’Achille said. “I couldn’t understand how this could happen to Alexis, or why she couldn’t get the help she so desperately needed.

“I envisioned a place where women could find compassionate care and therapies that met their individual needs; a place that would remove barriers to treatment, where it was understood that postpartum depression impacts the entire family. This place now exists at AHN, at the Alexis Joy D’Achille Center for Perinatal Mental Health.

“Alexis led a life filled with joy and hope. This center is the legacy she leaves for Adriana, a place where other women will find joy and hope at a time when they most need it,” D’Achille said.

In addition to the Alexis Joy D’Achille Foundation, the new center at West Penn Hospital was built with the generous financial support of West Penn Hospital Foundation, Highmark Foundation, Jewish Healthcare Foundation, Staunton Farm Foundation, and Pittsburgh Pirates Alumni Association. The center’s child care services are made possible by the support of The Pittsburgh Foundation and its donors, Jewish Women’s Foundation and Flexable, LLC.

“The opening of this wonderful new facility is the culmination of a three-year journey by AHN and the Alexis Joy D’Achille Foundation aimed at transforming the way postpartum depression is treated,” said Cynthia Hundorfean, President and Chief Executive Officer, AHN. “The D’Achille family’s passion and determination, together with our organization’s commitment to excellence in women’s health, has resulted in a game-changing resource that will improve the lives of women and their families for many years to come.”

“The Alexis Joy D’Achille Center for Perinatal Mental Health embodies our highest values at AHN: providing expert patient care that is innovative, compassionate, accessible and above all focused on meeting our patients’ complete, holistic needs,” Hundorfean said. “I would like to thank everyone involved for embracing this project and leading the development of a center that is truly unique to western Pennsylvania and the tri-state area.”

Perinatal (pregnancy-related) depression is believed to be widely under-recognized and under diagnosed. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that nearly 60% of women with depressive symptoms during or after pregnancy do not receive a clinical diagnosis, and 50% of women with a diagnosis do not receive any treatment.

At AHN, doctors are also focusing on better detection of perinatal mood disorders, and on responding quickly to women in need.  All AHN OBGYN practices screen women three times for mood disorders, twice before pregnancy and once after, using two different tests.  One of the tests detects bipolar disorder specifically, an important indicator for perinatal mental health issues. Once a woman screens positive, she is contacted by the perinatal mental health team on average within two business days of the referral.

Since January 2017, 2,500 women have been referred to AHN for pregnancy-related depression and the network expects to treat more than 2,000 women next year at the new center from a wide geographic area. P.V. Nickell, MD, Chair of Psychiatry at AHN, and Allan Klapper, MD, Chair, AHN Women and Children Institute, played critical roles in the development of universal perinatal depression screening as well as the center itself.

“Raising a healthy child requires a healthy mother and family,” said Sarah Homitsky, MD, an AHN psychiatrist and Medical Director of the Alexis Joy D’Achille Center for Perinatal Mental Health. “Caring for an infant can be challenging for any woman, but when a woman suffers from postpartum depression, her bond with her baby and her family suffers, at a time when bonding is critical to healthy development.

“We have created a novel therapeutic environment at this new Center that brings every available resource to women and their families in an effort to help them get well, bond and grow together,” Dr. Homitsky said

In addition to Dr. Homitsky, the Alexis Joy D’Achille Center for Perinatal Mental Health is staffed by clinical psychologist Rebecca Weinberg, PhD; a pediatrician, a nurse practitioner, a nurse, a licensed clinical social worker, a licensed social worker, and multiple licensed professional counselors. A second psychiatrist is coming on board in 2019.

More and more women are turning to AHN for expert, personalized, close-to-home health care services. An estimated 7,700 babies will be born at AHN hospitals in 2018, a 60 percent increase from 2013. AHN currently offers women access to OBGYN services at more than 35 locations across western PA and delivers babies at four hospitals, including West Penn, Saint Vincent, Forbes and Jefferson.  

The Network also recently announced plans to open a fifth obstetrics program at its new Wexford Hospital in Pine Township, which is currently under construction, and will soon cut the ribbon to a new, expanded neonatal intensive care unit at West Penn.