Building Awareness for Perinatal Substance Use

May 7, 2021

In Humboldt County, the number of pregnant individuals experiencing substance use disorder is three times higher than the state average. This inspired the Humboldt RISE (Resilience and Inclusion through Support and Empowerment) Project in 2017, to diagnose and treat individuals experiencing substance use disorder, while offering tools for support and empowerment.

Providence St. Joseph Hospital teamed up with the county Public Health Department, North Coast Health Improvement and Information Network, and the California Center for Rural Policy at Humboldt State University to create a program that encourages understanding and destigmatization of perinatal substance use disorder (SUD).

To strengthen understanding of SUD and choose services to fit the needs of patients, clinical staff use the following screening criteria:  

  • Do your parents have a history of substance use disorder?
  • Does your partner use?
  • Have you used in the past?
  • Do you currently use during your pregnancy?

Hannah Lippe, a social worker and patient advocate or “Navigator” in Providence St. Joseph Hospital’s CARE (Case Management, Advocacy, Resource and Referral, and Education) Network team, acts as a patient’s advisor throughout treatment. She works with patients on their individualized needs, which can range from transportation to various appointments, while being a trusted confidante.

“I meet people where they are at,” Lippe says. “Sometimes that means getting people into treatment and other times it could be just attending appointments with them or helping to coordinate with another service provider.”

The area manager for CARE Network’s Transitional and Community programs, Joy Victorine, recognizes that “being pregnant is already a vulnerable time, and on top of that, add battling substance use disorder and the stress of not having anyone in your life you can go to. Lippe is that person you can go to.”

Since the RISE program’s inception, CARE coordinators have worked with perinatal care providers on education around SUD to offer ongoing specialized support.

Lippe recently helped a woman to reunite with her child after her child was taken by Child Welfare Services when the woman used methamphetamine prior to giving birth. Due to the mother’s history of injecting heroin and having no source of income, she was at the mercy of the Dependency Court, which would not give her a second chance. Lippe was able to help with scheduling medical appointments for the mother, who went on to begin a residential treatment program. She’s thankful to have had Lippe as her Navigator to tackle Dependency Court, help her reconnect with her baby, and secure a hopeful future. 

Lippereflects, “Try to imagine the pressure of being homeless, attempting to carve out a new system of functioning while having Child Welfare Services in your life and knowing the court may decide not to give you another chance to parent your child. When I asked her if I could share parts of her story, she said, ‘Absolutely. Every woman should have access to this amazing program.’”

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