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WSU researchers study care given at Spokane transitional nursery for infants addicted in utero

A quiet room at Maddie's Place, a transitional nursing facility that cares for infants with neonatal abstinence syndrome.
Courtesy of Maddie's Place
A quiet room at Maddie's Place, a transitional nursing facility that cares for infants with neonatal abstinence syndrome.

Washington State University researchers are working to determine how many babies in Spokane County are born addicted to lethal drugs through their mothers.

The researchers are analyzing neonatal abstinence syndrome, or NAS. It’s the process of a baby going through detox after birth, says Celestina Barbosa-Leiker, professor and executive vice chancellor at WSU Spokane.

“Babies will typically have uncontrollable crying. They might not be able to eat very well. They might have tremors. Their vital signs might not be where the health care providers feel that they are ok,” Barbosa-Leiker said.

WSU’s research team will examine how NAS babies are cared for at Maddie’s Place. That’s a Spokane transitional nursery that’s one of only a few places in the country, and only one in Washington, that accepts these babies. It’s a residential facility where parents can stay with their babies full-time until the children can live healthy, safe lives at home with their families. Nurses and volunteers watch the babies 24/7 and hold and comfort them as needed. The facility’s goals is to begin caring for an infant as soon after birth as possible.

During its first 16 months of operation, Maddie’s Place has cared for more than 60 infants. CEO Shaun Cross expects, as word spreads about the facility, there will be much more demand for its services.

Barbosa-Leiker says WSU will talk with health care providers to determine the extent of NAS in the community.

“It’s very disparate from what is reported to what folks are seeing in the hospital, in the NICU, in the clinics, with what pediatricians are seeing in their offices, et cetera. So we want to identify, first and foremost, the barriers for accurate, valid, reliable, up-to-date information on the prevalence of neonatal abstinence syndrome here in Spokane County,” she said.

“With the opioid epidemic, especially now with fentanyl, the number of babies that we are expecting that are exposed to opioids and other drugs in utero, I think we are going to need a lot of different models of care, a lot of options depending on the status of mom and baby,” she said. “Maddie’s Place offers an additional model of care. It might be the best model of care possible, where mom and baby are together. It’s a quiet environment. It’s dim lights, soothing music. It’s specialized care specifically for babies who are exposed.”

The WSU study is funded by the Washington State Health Care Authority.

“We have researchers that have specialized in neonatal abstinence syndrome, perinatal substance use and topics like that,” Barbosa-Leiker said. “As Maddie’s Place was funded (by a two-year, $5.5 million state grant), the authority carved out a pilot evaluation of Maddie’s Place that they were requiring. So they asked us to lead that evaluation.”

WSU says the study will investigate the outcomes of the care at Maddie’s Place and whether it might lead to less expensive medical interventions, such as extended stays at hospital neonatal units.

Doug Nadvornick has spent most of his 30+-year radio career at Spokane Public Radio and filled a variety of positions. He is currently the program director and news director. Through the years, he has also been the local Morning Edition and All Things Considered host (not at the same time). He served as the Inland Northwest correspondent for the Northwest News Network, based in Coeur d’Alene. He created the original program grid for KSFC. He has also served for several years as a board member for Public Media Journalists Association. During his years away from SPR, he worked at The Pacific Northwest Inlander, Washington State University in Spokane and KXLY Radio.