Skip to Main Content

Schedule certain appointments online. Get started.

Dr. Leizl Sapico Honored for Shaping the Future of Postpartum Care

Dr. Leizl Sapico, an obstetrician-gynecologist at Virginia Mason Franciscan Health, goes above and beyond in her role caring for patients. As a clinician, she became passionate about finding a way to ensure birthing people are cared for not only during their pregnancy, but also in the pivotal time after birth, a time referred to as the fourth trimester.

She was determined to create a new standard of care, because a lack of postpartum support can have devastating outcomes for women and birthing individuals. What started off as a capstone project for her master’s program, transformed into the creation of the Postpartum Wellness and Recovery Program (PWR), a first in the entire country. The program focuses on three areas with the goal of improving postpartum outcomes and decreasing maternal mortality rates. Those areas include hypertensive disorders of pregnancy, perinatal mood and anxiety disorders (PMAD) and gestational diabetes. 

The U.S. has the worst maternal mortality rates compared to any developing country, and those rates more than doubled in the last two decades. 

Leizl Sapico, MD
Leizl Sapico, MD

These rates are even higher for Black women compared to white and Hispanic women, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). “When you look at statistics, most cases of maternal morbidity and mortality that occur in the postpartum period are preventable,” said Dr. Sapico. “The Washington state Maternal Mortality Review Panel looking at years 2014-2016 revealed that the majority of pregnancy related deaths occurred postpartum and the number one cause of death was maternal suicide, which is also the case for the rest of the country.”

Through the PWR program, Sapico aims to save lives by helping to provide essential services and support for each patient’s unique needs. She says patients referred to the PWR program feel supported, seen, and heard. 

“There are so many opportunities to educate, empower and check in about prevention,” she said. “What we’re forging on is how we view postpartum care,” Sapico said.

Phase 1 of the program rolled out last year. Each patient at VMFH who is diagnosed with hypertension is referred to the PWR program for continued follow up during the fourth trimester, a period of time after birth up to a year.

PWR program staff educate new mothers and birthing people about signs, symptoms, and provide education about hypertension. Patients are given access to a blood pressure cuff and set up a clinic visit in 2 to 3 days.

The PWR program offers continuity of care and coordinated transfer of care. Sapico and the PWR program follow mothers and birthing people with hypertension to help manage their cardiac health. For the first six weeks, the program meets with patients before providing a warm handoff to primary care providers and a cardiologist. They track blood pressure, schedule virtual check-ins, phone calls with perinatal nurses at regular intervals throughout the first year after birth.

Phase 2 of the PWR Program rolls out July 2024 and will focus on mood and anxiety disorders. This phase will focus on connecting women to support groups, reviewing medication regimens, as well as be a place where birthing individuals can go if they need help with mood and anxiety disorders. The final phase of the program – aimed at supporting individuals with gestational diabetes is expected to launch in July 2025.

According to Sapico, addressing these areas will not only impact outcomes during the immediate postpartum period, but it will also affect future pregnancies and overall health in a positive way.

The program was funded through the Mission and Ministry Fund at CommonSpirit Health. The three-year grant made it possible for Sapico to roll out the program in phases at Virginia Mason Franciscan Health.

Sapico was named a Puget Sound Business Journal Health Care Hero for her exemplary work and honored at a luncheon event on July 11.