By Cecilia Chan
GSN Managing Editor

A Gilbert nonprofit has found a home to open the state’s first residential opioid-treatment facility for both the mother and her baby later this year.

Hushabye Nursery is renting the third floor at the Native American Connections’ building on Central Avenue in Phoenix.

“We got 6,700 square feet to treat 12 infants and their mothers,” said Jim Burke, Hushabye spokesman. “By the end of the year we hope to start using it.”

Hushabye was co-founded by Gilbert resident Tara Sundem and Ahwatukee resident Kelly Woody, both neonatal nurse practitioners.

The two women not only want to provide a soothing environment to care for babies withdrawing from certain drugs exposed to in the womb before birth but to keep the infant and mother together.

In these situations, most often the baby is taken away from the mother by the state, according to Hushabye Nursery.

Though babies born with neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) are brought to neonatal intensive care units, they are not well-equipped to care for NAS infants, the nonprofit group said. These babies need a quiet, dark environment with a dedicated caregiver, providing one-on-one care, according to Hushabye.

Some 1,472 NAS babies were born in Arizona from 2008-13, according to state Department of Health Services. NAS rates have increased 235 percent in Arizona from 2008-14, the department reported.

A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study of 28 states found that babies born with an opioid dependency tripled in the 15 years ending in 2013.

Hushabye’s floor plan shows 12 private nursery rooms, each with a bed and crib, a caregiver station, a medication room, showers and a yoga-community room.

Burke could not say how much rent Hushabye is paying for the space, which formally housed a medical facility.

“The amount was appropriate for the space type,” he said, adding there was no further consideration from Native Connections for Hushabye to rent the floor.

Burke said some recent grants will allow Hushabye to now develop a pilot project designing and implementing an alternate care practice for expectant mothers with opioid-use disorder, NAS babies, and their families.

This research will be used to incorporate the new practice in their standard operating procedures and protocols for care.

Hushabye is attempting to help moms and babies like Monique French and her son Malachi, who was born in August.

She was taking prescribed psychotropic medication and Subutex to treat an opioid addiction when she became pregnant in November 2017.

She had been on prescription opioids since 2014 to treat chronic pain from endometriosis but ended up abusing her medication, at one point using heroin. She was switched to Subutex for pain management.

“My son was in the hospital for two months,” the 33-year-old Mesa mom said. “He has neonatal abstinence syndrome.”

On average over 14 babies a week are born in Arizona with possible drug-related withdrawal symptoms, according to Hushabye Nursery, which has been holding support groups at various locations in the Valley since 2017.

A pregnant woman using opioids who reaches out to Hushabye gets counseling on what to do and is connected to obstetrician and treatment programs.

Unlike a neonatal intensive care unit — which is high-paced and noisy — Hushabye’s nursery would provide the quiet, calm environment NAS babies need to recover, according to its founders.

“Sometimes it can take a couple of months to recover, it just depends on the baby,” Sundem said. “Most literature say up to six months but in talking to many moms, it’s about a year.”

What a baby goes through during withdrawal is similar to that of an adult’s, according to Sundem.

“I had one mom describe withdrawal as the worst flu and migraine times 100,” she said.

“We have specially trained staff that wants to work with this population,” she said. “You really have to have dedicated caregivers for this special population.”

“The opioid crisis is everywhere, so we are open to any location,” Sundem added. “What we expect is wherever we start that once we are able to have proof of concept that we are able to say this works, we are able to spread out and go to different parts of the Valley.”