Rockwell columns

Faculty Spotlight: Kimberley Zittel-Palamara

Kimberley Zittel-Palamara, assistant professor of social work, has dedicated her academic career to ensuring that people with medical needs are connected with appropriate care providers. Sounds simple enough. But for certain underserved groups, things are not always so simple.

Kimberley Zittel-PalamaraZittel-Palamara spent more than four years advancing senior citizens’ access to dental care as a staff member and eventual director of the University at Buffalo’s award-winning Counseling, Advocacy, Referral, Education, and Service (CARES) program. Since joining the Buffalo State faculty full time in 2005, she has focused her research efforts on new mothers’ access to prevention and treatment services for postpartum mood disorders.

Between 10 and 25 percent of new mothers in the United States experience symptoms of postpartum depression, according to Zittel-Palamara. Some research suggests the rate is much higher; a recent study in New York State found that as many as 55 percent of mothers will experience moderate symptoms. These include constant fatigue, withdrawal, sadness, feelings of inadequacy, guilt, anxiety, insomnia, or even acts of anger toward others. While awareness of the disorder is on the rise, Zittel-Palamara’s research has found that new mothers have a difficult time finding and accessing appropriate care providers.

“In the United States, there are approximately 450,000 women per medical/mental health professional specializing in postpartum mood disorder care—which is astoundingly out of proportion,” said Zittel-Palamara. She said, for example, that a recent Web search for professionals specializing in postpartum-depression care in the state of Florida produced just one result.

She took these alarming statistics to Australia earlier this month, where she and Sarah Cercone, a pre-med graduate student at UB, presented an access-to-care study funded by the Buffalo State College Research Foundation at the prestigious Marcé Conference in Sydney. The Marcé is a biennial international conference of researchers, psychiatrists, psychologists, nurses, midwives, doulas, and social workers who study or work with postpartum mood disorders.

“The conference attendees had no frame of reference to understand how women in the United States could have such limited access to these services,” Zittel-Palamara said. “In other countries, as soon as the mom and baby go home they are set up with a home nurse or midwife who sees them once a week to once a month for up to one year automatically.”

In Western New York, Zittel-Palamara has worked to combat these disparities by hosting two community meetings on campus to increase awareness and assist new or expectant mothers. In addition, she volunteers for WGRZ-TV’s WNYmoms.com, where she offers advice and information regarding postpartum depression. Zittel-Palamara was presented with the Social Worker of the Year Award by the Western New York Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers in 2007.

“Each year, there are approximately 2,000 mothers in Western New York who will experience postpartum depression, which is only one of six disorders identified as a postpartum mood condition,” she said. “The best way to assist these women is to recognize the symptoms early and encourage mothers to be proactive rather than reactive when it comes seeking care or treatment for these disorders.”