Mater partners with Queensland Health in first centre for mums

Queensland’s first integrated perinatal mental healthcare centre will open at Mater South Brisbane to address the urgent need for support for mothers and fathers across the state experiencing depression, anxiety and other issues around the birth of a new baby.

One in five mothers and up to one in 10 fathers experience perinatal mental health challenges and current health services in Queensland are unable to meet demand.

Catherine’s House for Mothers, Babies and Families will provide an In-patient Mother and Baby Unit with 10 rooms where mothers can stay with their babies while receiving treatment and care. A wide range of specialised perinatal mental health programs will also be delivered for individuals and groups.

Mater Chief Executive Officer Dr Peter Steer announced today, during Perinatal Anxiety and Depression Week, that Catherine’s House would open its doors to patients in mid-2023.

“More than $17m in community donations to Mater Foundation has enabled the former Sisters of Mercy convent at South Brisbane to be renovated into a fit-for-purpose, contemporary and family-focused facility,” Dr Steer said.

“Queensland Health has also contributed $7m in capital spending to the refurbishment, as well as $11m in annual operational funding to deliver multi-disciplinary care from a specialised team of allied health, mental health, paediatric and other practitioners.”

Queensland Health Minister Yvette D’Ath said the funding for Catherine’s House for Mothers, Babies and Families was part of the State Government’s recently announced five-year $1.6b mental health plan, Better Care Together.

“The plan includes operational funding for eight public in-patient rooms in Catherine’s House where mothers from across Queensland can stay with their babies while receiving treatment for severe perinatal mental health disorders,” Ms D’Ath said.

“This will triple the number of public in-patient beds available in Queensland from four to twelve for mothers and babies in need of specialist treatment.”

Dr Steer said Catherine’s House for Mothers, Babies and Families had been co-designed by a team of perinatal health practitioners and parents with lived experience of depression, anxiety and other mental health challenges in the first year of their baby’s arrival.

“Apart from providing a place where parents can stay with their babies while receiving care, Catherine’s House will also deliver a parent support centre for mothers and babies up to six months after birth, a home-visiting service, individual and group therapy treatments and private psychiatry and psychology consultations,” Dr Steer said.

“As Australia’s largest maternity services provider, these services ensure that the wellbeing of mothers and babies remains at the heart of Mater.”

Queensland Mental Health Commissioner Ivan Frkovic said Catherine’s House would enable practitioners from across the perinatal, infant and mental health sectors to collaborate in their care for families.

“It’s vital that healthcare is integrated to ensure we are providing holistic support to families as they set out on their parenting journey,” Mr Frkovic said.

“Catherine’s House will support the mother-baby attachment as well as the family unit.

“It’s a critically needed service and one that will enhance the health and wellbeing of thousands of Queensland families.”

The In-patient Mother and Baby Unit at Catherine’s House will have eight rooms for public patients and two for private patients, tripling the total number of dedicated perinatal mental health beds available in Queensland.

Brisbane mother Mary-Anne Richardson, who experienced postnatal depression after the birth of two of her children, said being able to stay with her baby while receiving treatment and care had been critical in her return to mental wellness.

“I became so desperate, I wanted to take my own life,” Mrs Richardson said. “I remember the days of not wanting to wake up and wanting it to be the end.

“Being admitted into a mother and baby unit changed my life, and Catherine’s House will help so many other women who desperately need perinatal mental health support.”

Sr Angela Mary, who lived in the convent until the 1960s, feels immense gratitude that the site will be used to address an urgent community need.

“We are happy and grateful to know that our former home will now be used for such a significant purpose,” she said. “Catherine’s House will address a need currently unmet in the community”.

Dr Steer said perinatal mental health issues in parents also impacted infants.

“They place babies at risk of complications in the first 1000 days of life including low birth weight, premature birth, reduced immune system response and increased risk of asthma, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and anxiety,” he said.

Dr Steer said research would play a vital role in further development of evidence-based services and programs for Catherine’s House families.

“Research has shown that specialist family-based interventions to address mental health issues and relationship disturbances in the early years of motherhood improve long-term outcomes for babies,” he said.

“Mater Research will be studying ways to help clinicians improve their understanding of perinatal mental health and the best way to care for mothers and families at Catherine’s House.”

Catherine’s House has been named in honour of Catherine McAuley, the founder of the Sisters of Mercy who established Mater. The refurbished convent will retain many of the heritage features of the original building.


(Top) Mater Chief Executive Officer Dr Peter Steer, Sr Angela Mary and Queensland Mental Health Commissioner Ivan Frkovic.
(Bottom) An artist's impression of Catherine's House for Mothers, Babies and Families.

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