POINT PLEASANT — “The incidence of babies born and having to go through (opioid) withdrawal has skyrocketed in recent years … it’s just a horrific way to start life that no child deserves,” U.S. Congressman Evan Jenkins, R-W.Va., said.
Those babies born to drug addiction are no longer being whispered about or ignored, and locally have been receiving specialized care at Pleasant Valley Hospital since its Bright Beginnings Unit opened last year.
Last week, Jenkins visited the unit to discuss the Nurturing and Supporting Healthy Babies Act, HR 4978, which he’s sponsoring to look at what more can be done to care for these infants suffering from Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS).
Jenkins said HR 4978, which has been receiving bipartisan support, will help examine models of care for NAS babies, including care protocols, therapeutic approaches, medications, environmental conditions, regulatory issues and any sort of barriers to their care.
There are three facilities which deal with NAS babies in Jenkins’ congressional district — PVH, which models its program after the one at Cabell Huntington Hospital, and Lily’s Place in Huntington, the latter of which he become involved with while in the state Legislature.
Jenkins said when the need for Lily’s Place arose five years ago, there was no real, clear protocol on how to care for the infants and, in addition, there were no laws and regulations “on the books” until relatively recently in terms of pediatric newborn recovery.
Jenkins said West Virginia has had to step up and deal with these issues, putting it ahead of the curve, so to speak, when it comes to attacking the problem, unlike many other states now facing the birth of this new generation of children.
“Tragically, we saw this crisis earlier than other parts of the country,” Jenkins said. “Other parts of the country can now learn from us. This legislation mandates an official government study of models of care around the country and it also is to identify barriers and ways to break down barriers (to care). Babies in the future will benefit from care models that we’ve been able to develop (in this region).”
As for his impressions of the Bright Beginnings Unit, Jenkins said: “I applaud Glen (Washington) and his team for responding to a need and dedicating the space. The alternative for these babies was to send them an hour down the road to Huntington or some other facility because they needed medical care and they couldn’t go home yet. Isn’t it wonderful for that baby, for the family of the baby, to be able to be cared for in the community? The hospital is putting babies first and I applauded what they’re doing.”
According to PVH, approximately one baby is born with an opiate drug addiction in the U.S. each day and specifically at PVH, one out of every seven babies born within the community are addicted to opiate drugs. Since the opening of the Bright Beginnings Unit, 28 babies have had access to this care — 25 who were born at PVH and three who were transferred from Ohio. In total, babies needing this care have spent 681 days in the Bright Beginnings Unit, according to PVH.
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