Mary Calhoun Brown found great satisfaction as a cuddler of drug-exposed babies at Cabell Huntington Hospital, but somehow, it wasn’t enough.
“My heart just broke,” she said. “I just couldn’t do anything about it.”
The need to provide more help to babies who had become addicted to drugs because their mothers were addicted led Brown to get involved with establishing Lily’s Place, a residential facility set to open this fall in Huntington.
The nonprofit facility will serve the Tri-State and will be home to newborns with neonatal abstinence syndrome as they withdraw from drug exposure. The former medical office building was donated by Laura Darby and the Darby Family Limited Partnership. Funding also comes from grants, donations, Medicaid and the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources.
Modeled on a unique program in Kent, Wash., called the Pediatric Interim Care Center, Lily’s Place takes its name from a Bible verse — Luke Chapter 12, verse 27: “Consider the lilies how they grow: they toil not, they spin not; ... If then God so clothe the grass, which is to day in the field, and to morrow is cast into the oven; how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith?” Brown said the name Lily is representative of all drug-exposed children and the Bible verse is a reminder God will take care of the babies.
Brown, secretary/treasurer of the board of directors of the facility, said there is a definite need in the Tri-State for such a facility.
“In the Tri-State, one out of every 13 babies is born drug exposed,” she said. “In other places, it’s not even in that hemisphere. In Indiana, it’s one out of every 100. It’s bad here.”
Hospitals offer neonatal intensive care units, which are equipped to care for babies with life-threatening conditions. With the influx of drug-addicted babies, the NICU doctors and nurses have to divert their attention from their healing work to comfort a baby whose medical issues are the symptomatic conditions associated with drug withdrawal. Another problem associated with using NICU beds for NAS infants is the population of NAS babies is beginning to overtake beds that are necessary for critically ill patients. Lily’s Place will relieve the NICU unit of the duties of drug-exposed babies.
The average stay is six to eight weeks, but Brown said it depends on the baby’s unique situation.
“Some babies are born having been exposed to one drug. Some are exposed to various drugs,” she said. “Some mothers aren’t as forthcoming about what they’ve been on. That’s where you throw judgment out the window and just be there to help.
“It’s helpful if the mother discloses everything she’s been on because it helps us treat the baby.”
Brown said the mother or primary caregiver must accept their help, too.
“Drug addiction cuts across all ethnic, geographical, economic and societal segments of the population. In the broader scope of who we will serve, we include the communities where the babies come from and the taxpayers, who often foot the bill for the ongoing care of the child,” she said.
In addition to medical care for babies exposed to drugs, Lily’s Place will offer education and support services to families and communities to help recognize and manage the needs of substance abused babies, as well as give counseling and support for mothers and families and will assist child protective services in determining the best placement for infants.
In addition to the board of directors, the facility will have an executive director, a staff of registered nurses, patient care assistants, business director, security guards and other staff to operate on a daily basis.
Already on board are West Virginia Senator Evan Jenkins, who is president of the board of directors and handles legal matters; Rhonda Edmunds, NICU nurse and consultant; Sarah Calhoun Brown, secretary/treasurer of the board of directors; Sara Murray, NICU nurse and consultant; and Dr. Sean Loudin, medical director.
There are still staff to hire and Brown said she’s looking forward to that.
“I’m going to take a step back and go back to being a cuddler,” she said. “I can’t wait.”
To donate to Lily’s Place, visit lilysplace.org or facebook/addictedbabies.
LEE WARD can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (606) 326-2661.