By Mark Powell
Helping Tiny People with Big Problems
You can tell a lot about a society by how it treats its most vulnerable members. And few are as vulnerable as infants born with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS). In layman’s terms, when babies are prenatally exposed to drugs, they can experience painful withdrawal symptoms just as an adult would. In Huntington, West Virginia, the number of babies born with NAS is more than 20 times the national average.
A few years ago, two nurses at Cabell Huntington Hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit noticed an alarming increase in babies born with NAS. “We researched options to help these babies,” Rhonda Edmunds, one of the two nurses, recalls, “and we came across the Pediatric Interim Care Center (PICC) in Kent, Washington.” PICC is the nation’s first interim care nursery. They were inspired by the center and the environment they created for the babies in their care.
Inspired by PICC and research showing that babies with NAS thrive in controlled environments, Edmunds and her co-founders came up with the idea of having a special unit in the hospital devoted to infants with NAS. She was instrumental in creating the Neonatal Therapeutic Unit at Cabell Huntington Hospital and eventually a standalone facility in Lily’s Place.
Lily’s Place opened in 2014 as the first standalone NAS treatment center in the United States. Lily’s Place provides medical care for babies suffering from NAS and also offers support and education to families and caregivers. “Lily’s Place provides babies with their own nursery,” explains Executive Director Rebecca Crowder. “We are able to control the stimulus and introduce stimulus slowly because of the individualized nature of the room,” Crowder adds.
Lily’s place provides 13 patient rooms set up like any nursery you might find in your home. Each nursery looks a little different and was decorated by a donor. Infants stay between two and six weeks; the length varies based on the baby’s needs. Lily’s Place also provides non-judgmental support to parents and caregivers and works with community partners to help parents with recovery. Lily’s Place is currently piloting a rooming program for mothers, allowing mothers to stay with their babies while the babies receive treatment.
Follow-up clinics are provided. Babies come back at one month, then quarterly after that, to make sure their developmental needs are being met. Parents are followed-up with, too.
A standout feature of Lily’s Place is called Kevin’s Room. The room allows parents to stay overnight with the baby. It is a test run of sorts to prepare for the baby’s discharge.
Lily’s Place was a featured award winner in the 2019 Innovation Now project of the Addiction Policy Forum.
J. Mark Powell is an author, former network journalist, and veteran communications expert.