State Sen. Kathleen Passidomo has launched a powerful and alarming promotion of her bill to create a new Florida-based project to take care of babies born to opioid-addicted mothers.
Passidomo, a Republican from Naples, posted social-media advertisingfeaturing a video produced with Golisano Children’s Hospital of Fort Myers, talking about babies born with neonatal abstinence syndrome, the syndrome’s devastating effects on newborns, and its shocking increase in occurrence.
“We’ve seen a 1,200 percent increase in our babies admitted for neonatal abstinence syndrome,” Golisano Medical Director and neonatologist Dr. William Liu states in the video.
“What we are seeing is our babies are the ones who are collateral damage,” he states.
The babies are born addicted, and must go through painful and risky withdrawal.
Passidomo’s Senate Bill 434 would authorize a statewide pilot project for a new way to treat such babies. The bill is up for a key committee consideration Thursday afternoon.
The bill would authorize the Agency for Health Care Administration, in consultation with the Florida Department of Children and Families, to establish a pilot project to license one or more health centers to treat NAS babies after stabilization, offering a community-based, lower-cost, more baby-centric care. That’s an alternative to the current treatment normally provided in hospital neonatal intensive care units, care that is lengthy [averaging 23 days] and expensive, and a burden on the state’s Medicare program. Much of the the expensive equipment and staffing at the neonatal ICU is not needed after a few days.
The pilot project is part of a national effort.
“We have a responsibility to the babies being born into the devastation of the opioid crisis,” Passidomo stated in a news release issued by Florida Senate Republicans. “The Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome Pilot Project takes important steps toward ensuring these babies are not left behind while we as a society work toward tackling the larger crisis we are facing.”
SB 434 was approved by the Senate Health Policy Committee in early November, and on Thursday is being considered by the Appropriations Subcommittee on Health and Human Services, which meets at 12:30 p.m.
When Hurricane Irma swept through Florida more than 1½ months ago, the giant storm quickly stretched federal resources, tested local governments’ emergency plans and left so much destruction in its wake it could make the storm one of the costliest in the state’s history.
Hurricane Andrew “is nothing compared to Irma,” said Sen. Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, during a panel discussion in North Naples on Thursday, referring to the 1992 Category 5 storm that led to sweeping changes in the insurance industry, weather forecasting and disaster response.
“Irma hit the entire state.”
Passidomo — speaking as part of a panel put on by the Naples Press Club at the Tiburón Golf Club — said projections show the state “will advance about $665 million for hurricane-related expenses.”
State officials hope 75 percent to 95 percent of that will be reimbursed by the Federal Emergency Management Administration, she said.
“That’s a huge number,” Passidomo said. “This is not going to be a cheap storm. We’re going to surpass probably Andrew, which was our highest expenditure.”
Irma, which made landfall in Collier County on Sept. 10, posed significant challenges to local officials, too.
Dan Summers, director of the Collier emergency operations center, praised the community’s resolve, the partnership with state and federal officials and the work of “second responders” who labored behind the scenes during the storm recovery effort.
But he said the far-reaching storm made it hard to adequately prepare.
“We had over 17,000 people in shelters,” said Summers, who also spoke as a member of the panel. “And I will tell you that we underestimated. Our planning assumptions were too low for sheltering.”
In the days and hours leading to the storm’s arrival in Southwest Florida, many residents faced long lines to enter shelters. Some had to look elsewhere as Collier officials navigated the largest evacuation in the county’s history.
Summers said Irma’s size and path made it difficult for residents looking to evacuate to know where to go.
The storm “coming up the spine, or up the center of the peninsula, generated such a large evacuation number in Collier County,” he said. “We’re going to go back and take a look at that.”
For FEMA officials, the storm — sandwiched between Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Maria, which devastated Texas and Puerto Rico, respectively — put a strain on federal resources, delayed housing inspections and overwhelmed the agency’s hotline in the aftermath.
Irma was unprecedented in its prolonged intensity, said Dolph Diemont, a federal coordinating officer for FEMA who spoke as part of the three-person panel.
“Packing 185 mph winds for 37 hours straight,” he said, reading from a prepared statement. “The longest on record maintained by any cyclone around the globe.”
Since the storm, 2.6 million individuals and families have registered for FEMA assistance, Diemont said, which exceeds the registrations for Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Wilma and Sandy combined.
“And that number continues to increase,” he said, adding that the registration deadline was extended to Nov. 24.
So far, almost 71,000 residents in Collier have registered with FEMA, Diemont said. Of the more than $1.3 billion in federal assistance distributed throughout Florida to date, about $52.5 million went to Collier, he said.
Representatives spoke about the long-term effects of Hurricane Irma on Collier’s economy and infrastructure. 6 Photos
Still, Diemont acknowledged that the agency — spread thin between three major storms — initially struggled to keep up with a flood of calls from residents trying to register and lagged behind in inspecting damaged homes.
“This resulted in longer processing times,” he said. “Our 1-800 number was frequently overwhelmed, and applicants complained of very long wait times, hours sometimes. Housing inspections were also delayed. Some waited for a month or longer to get their inspections.”
But Diemont said the agency brought in additional call center staff and increased its capacity to bring the hold time down to under a minute. FEMA also beefed up its number of housing inspectors, he said.
“We did whatever we could as best as we could,” Diemont said. “But I know a lot of people are frustrated.”
Diemont, in response to a question from the audience, also said that Everglades City — one of the hardest hit communities where relief was slow to arrive and many returned to uninhabitable homes — is “one of our highest priority areas.”
As of Thursday, 9,986 residents were eligible for rental assistance in Collier, Summers said. As part of transitional sheltering, which takes individuals from a shelter to a hotel, 112 residents are staying in hotels out of county and 343 in Collier hotels, he said.
Additionally, 81 Collier families are eligible for FEMA housing, Summers said.
Though he said the agency’s housing mission in Florida will be “long and complicated,” Diemont said FEMA is committed to stay for as long as it needs “to get the job done.”
“We’ll continue to work through these recovery challenges,” he said.
The infants are born addicted. They struggle to live. They cry constantly as they go through the same withdrawal symptoms as an adult, wanting more of the drug that had become their food the past nine months.
The opioid crisis impacts much more than the drug user. For the pregnant women addicted to these drugs the baby becomes addicted. When they are born, the crisis continues for days, even months, as they are treated for drug dependency. They need to be cared for 24 hours a day, except for the brief time they may fall asleep.
But in recovery, these babies need help once they can leave hospitals, usually in less than 20 days, but often times the mother, because of her addiction, can’t leave or isn’t capable of caring for the child. The babies need to be fed properly and cared for properly. Their mothers, in many cases still fighting substance abuse, aren’t capable of caring for them. Florida’s Department of Children and Families can assist, but it is overwhelmed. There are not enough foster families to take these babies.
Florida Sen. Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, has a possible solution and one we believe can make a difference. She has introduced legislation that will create a pilot program, allowing private, non-profit organizations to establish facilities that can provide 24-hour care for these infants once they can leave intensive care units. She wants proper background checks before licenses are issued but reduced fees to make it affordable, and minimum requirements for organizations to create these facilities. She wants facilities that take Medicaid patients so low income women and their babies can get care.
These facilities will be accountable for following state law among their personnel and within the facility. Passidomo said motivation for the bill was provided by a Naples attorney, who has been volunteering at a local hospital, caring for these sick infants. The attorney has helped form a non-profit specifically for caring for opioid babies if this legislation is passed and the organization applies for and gets licensed.
An important component to the pilot program is not only the treatment of these sick infants, but also measuring the results. She wants the department of health to step up and contract with a state university or college to provide baseline data on outcomes of the care and treatment. She wants the department of health to report back to the Legislature by specified dates on how programs are functioning. The study also will go well beyond what happens at the facilities. Critical to this data will be plans to track these drug dependent babies throughout childhood on how well they are doing in school and if they also face any drug addictions.
We encourage Florida Gulf Coast University or Florida SouthWestern State College to take a serious look at the this program and how it can help. Medical students could benefit from the training and experience of working with individuals involved in the program and with infants.
We are also encouraged that this program goes well beyond the treatment of the infant. It provides for the mother, once she is successfully treated, to be a resident at the facility and to be able to feed her child. The program provides for parenting education, breastfeeding education and counseling, as well as other resources. It provides for mandatory testing of the mother’s breast milk to make sure she is still not using drugs that in any way can harm the baby. If the mother refuses, the mother will be told to leave. The bill also mandates a facility cannot treat an infant for longer than six months.
It’s also encouraging this program will not require taxpayer support, other than what is provided through Medicaid. Any organization that applies to be part of the program and to open a facility must do it through grants or other private donations.
We are in an opioid crisis. People are overdosing and dying in record numbers. The number of Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (opioid dependent) babies born at or transferred into Golisano Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida has increased from 1.2 per every 1,000 live births in 2007 to 14.9 in 2016.
This is a big ask of any non-profit to take on such a tremendous responsibility, but it is an ask that must be made. These babies suffer enormously in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Golisano Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida and at hospitals across the country. This problem is not easing. It is only getting worse.
Passidomo’s bill offers some hope to this crisis, not only through the treatment of these babies, but also the education and hopefully the prevention of further drug dependency by the mother.
We strongly encourage the Legislature to dissect the bill, ask the necessary questions, many any changes that improve the substance of the program, but in the end measure the worth of treating these babies, to pass the bill and send it to Gov. Rick Scott for his signature.