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Cuddles Help Opioid-Exposed Newborns Get Well and Go Home in Half the Time

Denver Health And SCL Health treat babies with fewer medications and more time with mom

The opioid epidemic is far-reaching, affecting even newborns whose mothers struggled with opioid use during pregnancy. Denver Health reduced opioid treatment for these infants by 55% and reduced length of stay by 50% by emphasizing mom-and-baby bonding time as the first treatment for babies exposed to opioids. The program created by Denver Health and SCL Health in Colorado is now available out of the box within Epic so other health systems can implement it.

“This new method keeps babies and moms together, which is so important for the babies’ development and well-being,” said Colleen Wheeler, a NICU physician assistant at SCL Health who also assisted Denver Health’s transition to the new process. “Adding the guidelines to Epic meant our nurses were better able to support newborns through the opioid withdrawal process and they could help families connect with and care for their newborns.”

After delivery, nurses routinely check in with each mom and baby to assess how well the baby is eating, sleeping, and being consoled. If the infant shows symptoms of opioid withdrawal, or Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome, such as having difficulty with feeding, nurses help the parent hold and cuddle the baby or keep the room quiet, which can often help the baby feel better without medications.

Nurses track how the infant is doing in Epic so the entire care team can see this information. If the infant isn’t improving, the team can discuss next steps, such as trying other non-medication options or treating the baby with opioids. When mom and baby are ready to go home, nurses work with their outpatient care team to make sure they both have a smooth transition to ongoing care, such as regular visits to a pediatrician and adult addiction treatment if needed.

Learn more about opioid exposure in newborns and how health systems are treating it from Wheeler’s interview with CBS Denver. Epic community members can learn more about Denver Health and SCL Health’s approach from their webinar and on the UserWeb and have Epic staff install the tools they used as a part of Epic’s services.