As hospitals nationwide see more babies born dependent on substances such as opioids, Tucson Medical Center has been rethinking how best to serve those littlest patients.
Tucson Medical Center’s newborn intensive care unit treated 27 babies in April. Of those, 11 were born addicted to drugs and diagnosed as having neonatal abstinence syndrome. The syndrome can also affect babies who were exposed in utero to alcohol and tobacco.
As they are weaned off drugs, these babies have very different needs from those not experiencing withdrawal symptoms. Those symptoms may include high-pitched cries, trouble sleeping, shaking, jitters, poor weight gain, irritation and stiff arms and legs.
Thanks to a TMC nursing task force, TMC in April opened an annex just outside the intensive care unit, to provide these babies with a calming, quiet room featuring cycled lighting and fewer visitors to reduce overstimulation. Importantly, it also assigns specialized staff members who care just for these infants, who can be hard to console and who need significant time being swaddled and rocked to feel more secure.
To expand care for these babies, volunteer coverage has doubled on shifts. “Nursing staff and volunteers alike are thrilled,” said Hope Thomas, director of volunteer services and community programs.
Because treatment can last for many weeks, and even months, the staff members also work to build a relationship with the parents to not only educate them about how best to help their baby through what may be a challenging first year, but to help connect them with counseling and treatment programs, as well as plan follow-up care meetings.
“This is really a new phenomenon that we’re seeing across the country, and we’re learning a lot about how to give these babies a stronger start in life,” said Pat Brown, manager of the newborn intensive care unit. “We are committed to caring for all children, and these are some of the most vulnerable as we work with our community to confront this growing problem.”
For volunteer opportunities in the NICU, visit www.tmcaz.com/volunteering