Facility to aid at-risk babies
HUNTINGTON -- The directive for a new chapter of care for drug-exposed newborns in Huntington came from a short verse in the Gospel of Luke.
"The Bible says, 'Consider the lilies, how they grow.' Our thought with these babies is, there's nothing they did or can do on their own to get here, so we're going to be here to take care of them," said Sara Murray, a nurse in a neonatal intensive care unit. "We want to honor these babies. There's no excuse not to provide them the very best care possible."
Murray is part of a team working behind the scenes to open Lily's Place, a new pediatric addiction recovery center located along 7th Avenue in Huntington.
"Lily" is not one baby. It's a combination of stories of a lot of at-risk babies we sent out. Some did well, some did not," said Murray, who works at Cabell Huntington Hospital, where 75 of every thousand babies born is affected by neonatal abstinence syndrome. "Lily's Place will be a real opportunity to not just help those babies, but help the families as well."
State Sen. Evan Jenkins, D-Cabell and president of the board of directors for Lily's Place, said the number of babies born exposed to drugs is something that must be addressed. The cost estimate in caring for the drug-addicted babies at Cabell Huntington Hospital in a year tops $23 million, most of which is placed on the state of West Virginia's Medicaid tab. With the care and services provided by Lily's Place, that number could drop to just over $2 million.
"We cannot afford to continue doing things the way we have been, and Lily's Place could save the state considerable sums of money," Jenkins said. "And, we are on the cusp of kicking off a new initiative here that will provide care for these most delicate, fragile newborns."
That new way involves a state-licensed facility that can accommodate three to 30 babies, depending on the need. Situated in a 7,250-square-foot building, formerly used as a medical office, the facility was donated by Laura Darby for creating the newborn recovery center. Babies can be transferred to the facility for the duration of the weaning process, where trained medical staff and volunteer "cuddlers" will use tried-and-true methods, such as therapeutic handling, dim lighting and fewer stimuli, to nurse the drug-exposed infants through withdrawal. The facility will also staff security and business office personnel.
"We were being overwhelmed by the sheer number of babies in the NICU affected by this. Every day, we thought the numbers were going to lessen, but they never do," Murray said.
The organization is working with state officials, including the Department of Health and Human Resources, to create funding a model to support its efforts.
Murray and fellow NICU nurse Rhonda Edmunds traveled to Seattle to visit a facility similar to the one that will be opening in Huntington in the coming months.
"It takes a while to learn how to care for these babies because they have challenging, high-level needs and traditional methods of comforting them don't work," said Dr. Sean Loudin, the medical director of Lily's Place. "During the withdrawal process, there's crying and screaming and rigidity. You cannot send a baby who can't cope home with parents who have no coping skills. It just doesn't work."
"If you ask a parent, 'Have you ever been in withdrawal?' Then, they begin to understand what their babies are going through," Murray said.
Loudin said Cabell Huntington Hospital created a special unit for drug-exposed babies, but the clinical environment constrained the full realm of therapeutic capabilities, something Lily's Place will be able to accommodate.
"We don't need lots of fancy, expensive equipment. We can manage their withdrawal in the right setting with the appropriate medications," said Loudin, adding that it can take five to seven days for withdrawal symptoms to first appear and a withdrawal period of four to six weeks. Care for families such as counseling and support will also be offered.
"This is not a criticism at all of what's happening here locally at the hospital," said Mary Calhoun Brown, who has served as a volunteer "cuddler" for drug-exposed babies during the past three years. "There's just no place for these extra babies to go."
For Brown, she said something changed in her the first time she held a newborn with neonatal abstinence syndrome.
"You just see these helpless, little babies crying and in pain, and you're able to soothe them, even if it's just for a few minutes. That's the best feeling," Brown said. "I get paid in sleeping babies."
Both Loudin and Murray said they don't see the specialized care unit for drug-exposed babies at Cabell Huntington Hospital going away any time soon, but Lily's Place gives parents the best option outside the hospital for advanced, specialized care for their newborn.
"To think about your newborn not going home with you is a scary thing," Murray said. "But, Lily's Place will offer them a place to send their babies where they know they're going to get the best care for this condition and where they can allow the experts to do it for them."
The long-term implications of an affected baby's health or of a facility like Lily's Place are not yet known, Loudin said.
"People with drug-exposed babies and babies in withdrawal ask me all the time, 'What does this mean for my baby 10 years from now?'," Loudin said. "Only time will tell, but for now, this is a step in the right direction."
Follow H-D reporter Beth Hendricks on Facebook or Twitter @BethHendricksHD.
How to help
Lily's Place is in need of donated goods, including: a sprinkler system; a transport vehicle to go to rural areas to bring patients to the facility; a new washer and dryer; an air conditioning unit; roof repairs; a new copy machine; a state-of-the-art security system with cameras; a fence around the back of the property; gift cards to Lowe's or Home Depot for paint and supplies; gift cards to Office Depot or Office Max for office supplies; 30 new cribs; 30 new rocking chairs; 30 acrylic hospital bassinets; 30 4Moms brand mamaRoos (Available at www.4moms.com/mamaroo); newborn and preemie diapers; cloth diapers for burping and feeding the babies; receiving blankets; bedding; and monetary gifts.
To get involved, visit lilysplace.org or facebook.com/addictedbabies.