District provides specialist care for new parents with severe mental illness
Genevieve Whitlam knows RPA's new Parent and Baby Unit will fill a vital gap in specialist care for new parents experiencing mental illness.
"It creates a space for healing, recovery and connection which is so important when people are in the depths of a severe mental illness," she said.
In 2020, Genevieve was diagnosed with post-natal psychosis after her baby Arlo was born. She spent six weeks in hospital, and for part of that time was separated from Arlo while she received inpatient psychiatric care.
She has since recovered and for the past two years, has helped to design the first public purpose-built state-wide Parent and Baby Unit in New South Wales.
Based at Royal Prince Alfred hospital, the eight bedroom Parent and Baby Unit will provide specialist care for new parents with severe mental illness, with their babies able to stay with them.
They will also receive caregiving, parent-baby relationship and child development support.
NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet and Minister for Mental Health Bronnie Taylor joined NSW Health Secretary Susan Pearce, Sydney Local Health District's Board Chair John Ajaka, Acting Chief Executive Ivanka Komusanac and Acting Clinical Director for Mental Health Services Dr Andrew McDonald to officially open the new facility.
"We want new parents to receive the specialist care they need to recover from serious perinatal mental ill health, while staying together with their babies to form an emotional bond in those all-important, formative months," Mr Perrottet said.
Named 'Naamuru', a local Aboriginal word meaning 'leading the way', the Parent and Baby Unit will provide multidisciplinary support for up to 120 parents in NSW, who have infants up to 12 months of age, each year.
"The aim is to help a parent get through their acute episode of mental illness and to maintain the bond between the child and the parent in a safe, homely and friendly environment," Dr Andrew McDonald, the District's Acting Clinical Director for Mental Health Services, said.
Each bedroom will be able to accommodate a parent, babies under 12-months of age and a partner or family member. Rooms have a queen size bed and a daybed for carers staying overnight.
There are also therapeutic spaces, including a 24-hour respite nursery; a mothercraft room; dining and kitchen areas; outdoor courtyards; multiple play areas with stimulating toys and books; and a retreat room.
The open plan building is flooded with natural light, has modern comfortable furniture and colourful artwork and murals are dotted throughout the communal spaces.
The Parent and Baby Unit's team includes a nurse practitioner, child and family health nurses, a clinical midwife consultant, consultant and trainee psychiatrists, paediatricians, allied health staff and a peer support worker.
"RPA is proud to be the home of the state's first public unit providing acute, inpatient care and treatment for parents from across NSW who are experiencing psychiatric illness in the perinatal period alongside their baby," Dr Teresa Anderson, the District's Chief Executive, said.
A second state-wide facility at Westmead Hospital is expected to open later in the year.