Downstate Health Sciences University Secures $3.1m PCORI Award for Perinatal Mental Health Equity Research

Dec 11, 2023

Research project will address disparities and outcomes in maternal mental health access

Brooklyn, NY - A research team at Downstate Health Sciences University, led by Thomas I. Mackie, Ph.D., MPH, Health Policy and Management Chair, has been awarded a six-year, $3.1M sub-contract from the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI). This funding will support a perinatal mental health equity study in collaboration with Postpartum Support International (PSI) and the University of Massachusetts Chan Medical School (UMass Chan), the lead institution in the project. Dr. Mackie will be conducting this research with co-investigators, Camille A. Clare, M.D., MPH, CPE, FACOG, Obstetrics & Gynecology Chair in the College of Medicine, and Azure B. Thompson, DrPH, MPH, Assistant Professor at the School of Public Health. The study will investigate and address disparities in perinatal mental health outcomes.

The Pathways to Perinatal Mental Health Equity Research Study, led by Nancy Byatt, DO, MS, MBA, UMass Chan Medical School psychiatry Professor, and Wendy Davis, PhD, PMH-C, PSI Executive Director, is a cluster randomized control trial comparing two models of improving mood and anxiety disorder care in 32 OB practices nationwide. Half of these practices will follow a medical model, while the other half will adopt a healthcare-community partnership model. The project will scale these models using a “train the trainer” approach involving Perinatal Psychiatry Access Program teams in seven states. Both models will incorporate anti-racism training, trauma-informed care training, and screening and referrals for social determinants of health to ensure a focus on equity in perinatal mental health care.

In the healthcare-community partnership model, the research team will work with Postpartum Support International to include its peer support program that will provide psychoeducation, behavioral activation, and navigation services alongside the healthcare model. The investigation of the implementation of these models across the 32 OB practices and the Engagement Core will be led by the research team at Downstate Health Sciences University.

“The leading cause of maternal mortality in the U.S. is mental health and substance use disorders. Many people, especially those who are marginalized, don’t get the care they need,” said Dr. Mackie. “With this grant, we’re excited to work with U Mass Chan Medical School and Postpartum Support International to test two ways to improve access to mental healthcare for underserved populations. Both approaches are centered on equity and include anti-racism training, trauma-informed care, and addressing social determinants of health.”

The study was chosen as part of a PCORI funding initiative aimed at enhancing maternal health outcomes. It focuses on comparative clinical effectiveness research for community-informed, multicomponent interventions that tackle both health conditions and social determinants of health. Maternal mortality and severe maternal morbidity are on the rise in the U.S., and disparities in maternal outcomes persist, especially among Black, American Indian/Alaska Native individuals, as well as those with disabilities, low incomes, or living in rural areas.

The award has received approval, pending a final review by PCORI staff and the issuance of a formal award contract. The study was chosen through a rigorous selection process that involved patients, caregivers, and key interested parties collaborating with scientists to assess proposals. The study will begin with an initial feasibility phase aimed at increasing the chances of a successful full trial. Read the full PCORI press release here.


About Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI)

PCORI is an independent, nonprofit organization authorized by Congress in 2010. Its mission is to fund research that will provide patients, their caregivers, and clinicians with the evidence-based information needed to make better-informed healthcare decisions.

About SUNY Downstate Health Sciences University

Downstate Health Sciences University in Brooklyn is one of four academic health centers (AMCs) in The State University of New York (SUNY) 64-campus system and the only SUNY AMC in New York City dedicated to health education, research, and patient care for the borough’s 2.7 million residents. Its flagship hospital, University Hospital at Downstate (UHD), is a teaching hospital and benefits from the expertise of Downstate’s exceptional medical school and world-class academic center research facilities. With a staff of over 800 physicians representing 53 specialties and subspecialties, Downstate offers comprehensive healthcare services to the community.

UHD provides high-risk neonatal and infant services, pediatric nephrology, and dialysis for kidney diseases and is the only kidney transplantation program in Brooklyn. Beyond its clinical expertise, Downstate houses a range of esteemed educational institutions, including its College of Medicine, College of Nursing, School of Health Professions, School of Graduate Studies, and School of Public Health. Downstate fosters innovation through its multifaceted biotechnology initiative, the Biotechnology Incubator and BioBAT, which support early-stage and more mature biotech companies.