Its methods: NorthShore’s perinatal depression program offers an array of innovative services to expectant and new moms suffering from depression, psychosis, or other pregnancy-related mood disorders. Those services include universal depression screening, a round-the-clock hotline staffed by licensed mental health professionals, and access to a wide network of community-based mental health providers. The department also offers training for health care practitioners on the signs and symptoms of perinatal mood disorders, as well as their prevalence and the importance of universal screening. All services are free of charge, which ties into NorthShore’s mission to target underserved populations, says Dr. Jo Kim, the program’s director.
The foundation also helps fund the department’s groundbreaking research on preterm labor. Led by Dr. Emmet Hirsch, a team of researchers seeks to understand the normal physiological processes that initiate labor and compares them to abnormal conditions seen in preterm deliveries. Most recently, Dr. Hirsch’s team has been studying signals from a fetus that when disturbed under certain conditions might trigger labor. Research into those fetal chemicals may eventually lead to treatments that could potentially prevent preterm labor, according to Dr. Richard Silver, chairman of the OB/GYN department.
Its impact: NorthShore’s pioneering clinical programs have connected thousands of women to needed services, and its research has laid the groundwork for scientific discoveries that could potentially save infants’ lives. The department has screened more than 58,000 women for perinatal mood disorders since the program was established in 2002. Of those, about 10 percent were identified as at-risk and received mental health outreach services. Additionally, about 6,350 women have called the mental health hotline, and many callers were able to get urgent psychiatric evaluations.
Dr. Hirsch’s lab has advanced the study of preterm labor—the most common cause of newborn death and disease worldwide—in multiple ways. Recently, researchers identified a fetally produced protein that prevents preterm labor caused by infection, as well as a new virus strain that is associated with preterm labor.
How the Satter Foundation has helped: Dr. Silver says the Satter Foundation’s support has been particularly valuable because federal grant funding has become increasingly difficult to obtain. Dr. Hirsch’s team has been able to use data it gathered with Satter Foundation funding to secure additional funding from federal agencies, including the National Institutes of Health, and the March of Dimes. “Kristen has a genuine interest in our work and understands the content areas in which we work,” says Dr. Silver. “Her curiosity motivates us as grant recipients, and the foundation’s support enables us to stay at the cutting edge of our field.”
What’s next for NorthShore University HealthSystem: In addition to expanding its clinical services and research initiatives, the two programs will continue to collaborate with other institutions to advance their work. For example, Dr. Kim’s perinatal depression team plans to join forces with researchers at the University of Chicago to implement a computer-based test that adapts to each individual’s responses to screen for and diagnose depression. “The hope is that this could become not only a more accurate screening tool but also one that can capitalize on the mobile-health initiative that is penetrating health care,” she says. And Dr. Hirsch will continue to collaborate with researchers across the country, including those at the University of Washington, Rosalind Franklin University, Case Western Reserve University, Washington University in St. Louis, the University of Chicago, and Columbia University.