PARAMUS — A behavioral health services provider has created an oasis in what's being described as a "treatment desert" for pregnant and postpartum women.

Opened quietly in June and officially launched with a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Wednesday, Care Plus NJ's Maternal and Family Center is already handling dozens of patients who are dealing with mental health issues related to conceiving a child.

Running out of CarePlus' headquarters in Paramus, the multidisciplinary center is meeting with patients mostly remotely during the COVID-19 public health crisis. Services include support groups, counseling, support for fathers and loved ones, coordination with primary care doctors, and more.

"Our program is open to not just postpartum women, which is sort of the common focus. We have patients in our program who are having fertility issues, we have women who are currently pregnant and suffering from depression and anxiety and a variety of other mental health issues," said Dr. Daniel Finch, chief medical officer at CarePlus.

Maternal mental health hasn't received the attention it deserves, Finch said. Prior to the opening of the center, Finch said, one of his patients was sent by her obstetrician to an institution in Massachusetts to receive mental health care.

"When we're talking treatment desert, we're talking treatment Sahara," Finch said.

A New Jersey 101.5 series about maternal mental health, published in July 2019, cited The Center for Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders, part of Monmouth Medical Center, as the only operation of its kind in the Garden State.

CarePlus has redefined the postpartum period as two years after birth, Finch said. The center accepts all insurances, including Medicare and Medicaid.

"If you are able to find a perinatal or reproductive psychologist ... those people are charging several hundred dollars per session, cash," Finch said. "The cost prohibitive nature of this type of treatment was a major deterrent for many women seeking care."

The center plans to continue telehealth services beyond the pandemic; a small number of patients are on site for in-person services, following COVID-19 safety guidelines.

"Breaking the stigma of seeking help for a mental health issue is vitally important, and I am hopeful that because of CarePlus and organizations like it, soon no one will have to suffer in silence," said first lady Tammy Murphy, an advocate for maternal health who was on site for the ribbon-cutting ceremony.

The center's launch was made possible by a federal grant. The center is up to a roster of about 30 patients, Finch said.

Contact reporter Dino Flammia at dino.flammia@townsquaremedia.com.