Summer launch eyed for heroin nursery

Center for drug-addicted newborns would be first in Ohio.

The state’s first crisis care nursery for drug-addicted newborns is a couple steps closer to opening after receiving zoning go-ahead from Kettering City Council this week and a $250,000 check from the CareSource Foundation.

Brigid’s Path, 3601 South Dixie Drive, will be only the second such clinic in the country when it’s expected to open next summer. The foundation donation — as well as CareSource’s future commitment to reimburse the non-profit for patient costs — will allow the Brigid’s Path to speed up work turning an 11,870 square-foot donated former laboratory building into 24, home-like nurseries along with space for administration, education and meetings.

Related: Addicted at birth

“Unfortunately the need is growing,” said Deanna Murphy, Deanna Murphy, co-founder and co-executive director. “More and more babies each year are being diagnosed with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS).”

Dr. Marc Belcastro, a neonatologist for 30 years, saw perhaps just two cases a year prior to 2012. Then the numbers exploded at Miami Valley Hospital where he is medical director of the neonatal intensive care unit. In 2013 the hospital saw 50 babies; in 2014, 80 were born with opiates in their systems.

“This year we will have between 90 and 100. So it continues to increase. And that’s just in our nursery alone,” Belcastro said. “Brigid’s Path should be able to fill those beds. That’s not a happy thing to say, but it’s a good thing that we can have a place for this problem.”

When withdrawal sets in, babies are unable to sleep for long periods of time, may breathe fast, shake uncontrollably, don’t feed well, may throw up often, and can even suffer seizures, Belcastro said.

The idea for Brigid’s Path came initially to Jill Kingston, the other co-founder and co-executive director. She received her foster care license and within a month was caring for two babies — both drug exposed.

“If I’m one foster family taking care of two babies, then how big is this problem?” she asked herself in the spring of 2014.

“I felt a huge calling to do something bigger in our community when I found out what the hospitals were experiencing,” Kingston said.

In May 2014, Kingston and Murphy drove to Huntington, W.V. to visit Lily’s Place, which was set to open as the nation’s first clinic dedicated to caring for the youngest drug addicts and helping their families break a cycle of addiction that sometimes reaches back generations.

A newborn withdrawing from opioids requires constant intensive care. In most cases, morphine or methadone is used to wean the babies off the drugs put into their bloodstream by their mothers.

“So you have to intervene fairly quickly and stabilize them with an opiate drug and then we slowly wean it off of them over a period of two to three weeks,” Belcastro said.

The hospital bill for those weeks often comes in at tens of thousands of dollars.

Nearly 1,700 drug-exposed babies were born in Ohio in 2013, a 750-percent increase from 2004, according to the Ohio Department of Health. The average cost for caring for these newborns nearly doubled during the same time to $57,897.

Medicaid, the taxpayer-funded health system for the poor and disabled, covered 87 percent of the babies diagnosed with NAS that year, running the tab to taxpayers to $28 million. The total cost for drug-addicted infants in 2013 was more than $97 million.

Belcastro said most drug-exposed babies are stabilized at the hospital within three to five days and, with a mother’s permission, could be safely transferred to Brigid’s Path, where he is also volunteer medical director.

Murphy said numbers crunched by the non-profit show a day at Brigid’s Path would cost about a quarter of a daily stay in the hospital, dramatically decreasing the cost to private insurers or Medicaid.

The donation Thursday lifts the Brigid’s Path fund raising total to a little more than $1 million, Murphy said. That’s about half of the $1.9 million the organization says it needs to open the doors.

On Tuesday, the Kettering council approved an amended definition to a section of the city’s zoning code that allows Brigid’s Path to use the building as an in-patient facility to care for newborns.

“Now that our zoning is approved we can move forward with permits and start construction in January,” Murphy said.

A small regulatory hurdle remains for the organization to get reimbursed by Medicaid, but area politicians and top legislative staffers at CareSource are ironing out the details now with the Ohio Department of Medicaid, Ponitz said.

“It’ll happen. We are not at all concerned that this will not happen,” she said “There is so much support.”

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