By Kathy Bennett
NORTH CONWAY, NH – It’s been three years since a group of concerned midwives, OB/GYN doctors and RNs realized a troubling increase in numbers of pregnant women presenting at Memorial Hospital with opioid misuse disorder. These women and their babies were in desperate need of comprehensive treatment, in a region that had nothing tailored to their needs. After learning more about a perinatal substance abuse treatment program at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center, these clinicians banded together to develop a program for the small hospital in North Conway. After receiving support from the hospital’s senior management team and Board of Trustees, A New Life was born, and three years later it continues to serve an important need in the community.
Pregnancy often becomes a time when women struggling with addiction have new motivation to address their problems. Additionally, this population feels significant shame and lack of community. A New Life approaches these gaps by building connections- increased ongoing support from the medical care team as well as enhanced peer support. The program also supports mothers and babies during the critical post-partum period, a time when those in recovery are most likely to relapse. Women attend a weekly clinic which includes:
- Education on various topics related to pregnancy, well-being and infant care
- Group substance misuse counseling session with psychologist
- Social Work support services (housing, transportation)
- Prenatal care visit with a Certified Nurse Midwife
- Physician visit for pharmacologic management of opioid dependence
- Healthcare coordination and healthcare follow up by RN coordinator
- Complementary Therapies to support mental health (reiki, craniosacral etc.)
- Referrals to community support services
- Participants are given healthy snacks and their children are provided babysitting during the clinic.
One reason the program has persisted has been the strong support of donors and foundations who have put financial backing into the program, which operates at a loss. Last year, the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation awarded a grant to support a New Life.
The grant focused on funding to provide clinical leadership by allowing a nurse midwife to focus more time to the program; for patient education; and to do community outreach to ensure that those in need of services were aware of the program.
Certified Nurse Midwife Lauren Hunter began working at Memorial in 2017 and has taken on a leadership role for A New Life. She shared, “This grant has allowed me to reach out to other community partners in the project to help people with OUD.”
Lauren enumerated the outreach she has undertaken in the first 8 months of the grant period:
- Collaborated with stakeholders who work with this particular patient population during the Public health advisory meeting in June, as well as with the Carroll County Coalition.
- Outreach at MAT (medication assisted treatment) practices including Sacopee Valley Health, as well Huggins Hospital and Saco River Medical Group.
- Outreach to the Carroll County Police
- Collaboration with MWV Supports Recovery
- Continued work with Daisy Goodman CNM and Dr. Lord from Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center
- Investigating partnering with White Horse Addiction and the Roads Program
- Coordination with Memorial Hospital’s Primary Care MAT program, to help get New Life patients’ partners into treatment.
- Education within New Life about Suboxone, Suboxone in pregnancy, and the risk of alcohol use with Suboxone.
- Training for New Life participants about Mindfulness and Anxiety.
- Joy Gagnon from the UNH Cooperative Extension provided several nutrition classes including cooking classes.
Hunter continued, “Without these funds, we would not be able to provide these women with education regarding addiction, parenting, nutrition, and coping skills, etc. This also allows us to provide the best care to these women in a very individual and personal way during a very vulnerable and important time in their lives.”
Kathleen Bennett, Vice President of Community Relations and Development provided an organizational perspective of the program and its funding: “We are in a very challenging financial environment as a small rural hospital. Several hospitals in our region have stopped providing maternity services all together in the last few years, highlighting the financial challenges of offering them. Overlay that with the opioid crisis and what had been an increasing percentage of pregnant women presenting with substance misuse disorder, and you can understand the need for support to keep these resources available for our community’s mothers and babies. As the program has matured, we’ve realized the need for greater outreach, more clinical leadership and resources for patient education.”
There are currently 13 women in the program today, most of them in the post-partum period with newborns in tow. While the absolutely numbers are small, the impact is big. On a recent Tuesday, six rosy-cheeked babies arrived at the New Life clinic and were handed off to a team of enthusiastic caregivers, a combination of volunteers and paid childcare staff from Children Unlimited. The babies’ happy faces reflect the better outcomes these infants are experiencing thanks to the program. The program has resulted in:
- 100% of babies were discharged home with biological parents
- The number of babies transferred to other medical facilities has been greatly reduced, from 54% in 2015 (prior to A New Life) to 41% in 2016 and 28% for 2017.
- 92% of infants were breastfed.
- Fewer babies going through withdrawal from drug exposure.
- Decreased extended hospital stays.
“I’m fortunate I’m able to focus on the needs of these women so we can help them through this very important time in their lives, not only for the women themselves, but for their families as well. It also allows me to spend time educating these women in the program, as well as educating the community on the opiate crisis and the help available,” stated Hunter.
For more information on A New Life, go to http://www.memorialhospitalnh.org/newlife. To make a donation to support A New Life, call Rachel Damon at 603-356-5461 ext. 2269.