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“Families heal every single day” at Hushabye Nursery

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PHOENIX, AZ (Hushabye Nursery) – Drug withdrawal is a brutal process. You’re agitated and anxious. Your muscles ache. You’re sweating, and your nose won’t stop running. Then there are the abdominal cramps, diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting. Withdrawal is painful. Disorienting. Scary. It’s bad enough for a teen or adult who understands what’s happening and can tell others what they need. Imagine being a newborn, just a few hours old. You’ve already found yourself thrust into an unfamiliar environment. Bright. Loud. Cold. That’s disconcerting by itself. Now all you know is you hurt. All over your tiny body. You don’t know why. You’re exhausted, but you can’t sleep. You’re hungry, but you can’t eat. Nothing seems to help. All you can do is cry and hope somebody hears you.

This is what hundreds of Arizona babies experience every year. They have Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome. A baby with NAS was exposed to substances, likely opioids, while in the womb. It’s a rough start, but like every baby, babies with NAS deserve the best possible chance to have a healthy life.

Hushabye Nursery

These are the tiniest, most helpless victims of Arizona’s opioid crisis.

Most babies with NAS are treated in the neonatal intensive care unit. NICU teams do amazing work, and countless families owe their children’s lives to those dedicated nurses and doctors. But NICUs are not set up to treat babies with NAS.

Hushabye Nursery in Phoenix is. NAS is what they treat. It’s all they treat. 24/7. It was founded by a neonatal nurse practitioner who has a unique understanding of NAS.

“In the hospital, we just don’t have the time or the hands to care for these little ones when they’re going through the withdrawal process,” Tara Sundem explained. She worked in a hospital and remembers vividly a mother who had come to see her baby in the NICU. It was a day that would change everything for Tara and hundreds of babies with NAS.

“Her baby had had a really rough night,” Tara said. “She was so excited to see her baby, but her little one was sleeping. And the nurse looked at the mom and pointed at her and said, ‘Don’t touch your baby.’”

The mom left the NICU. She never went back.

“I believe what the nurse meant was, ‘Your little one had a really bad night, and he’s finally sleeping. So, let’s not wake him. But be here. He needs you here.”

That was the moment that led Tara to create Hushabye Nursery.

“That was the kicker of, ‘We’ve got to do better.’”

Since opening in late 2020, Hushabye Nursery has helped more than 450 Arizona babies with NAS and their families. Tara and her committed team specialize in the around-the-clock care babies with NAS need. And they usually do it without giving the babies drugs like Morphine.

“If a baby needs to be held 24/7, the baby is held 24/7,” Tara said.

That does not happen in a NICU. It can’t. There are too many other things happening. Vital things that cannot be put on pause. NICU nurses might have two or three babies with special needs in their care, and they only have two hands.

That’s where Hushabye comes in. The entire setup is designed for babies with NAS. It’s dark. It’s quiet. There are people trained specifically to care for babies going through withdrawal.

Hushabye Nursery in Phoenix
The team at Hushabye Nursery uses the “Eat, Sleep, Console” method to reduce the need for drugs like morphine. If a baby needs consoling any time - or all the time – the team at Hushabye is equipped and ready to do it.

Doing what hospitals can’t

“Once you’ve seen baby withdraw and shake, have tremors that you can’t stop, with the high-pitched cry and arching, and maybe be able to sleep for five minutes, you never forget that,” Tara said. “Caring for a baby that’s going to cry for 12 hours straight is really, really hard.”

It would be difficult for any parent, but especially so for a parent who is new to recovery herself.

What’s unique about Hushabye Nursery is its approach to helping babies with NAS. The babies are the priority. At Hushabye, that means families are a priority.

What Tara and her team at Hushabye have done is unlike anything in the entire country, and it all revolves around a simple idea. Family heals. Hushabye Nursery pairs essential health care with just-as-essential family support services. There are other medical detox nurseries for babies with NAS, but their services end with the babies. Hushabye Nursery takes it further by helping the mothers.

“We’re baby-centered, but truly, to help that baby, we need to heal their entire family,” Tara said.

Hushabye Nursery is changing the care model.

“We have that dark, quiet environment, the one-to-one caregivers, and everyone understanding that, really, moms are the best medicine,” Tara said. “We have to make them feel included. Dads, too. And make them know that your baby does need you here. We need you to be well when you’re holding your baby. But we need you here, and your little one needs you here.”

Hushabye Nursery
The spaces at Hushabye Nursery are designed to allow the recovering babies to have their parents close by as much as possible. Right now, the Hushabye team can care for up to 12 babies at a time.(Hushabye Nursery)

It’s working. The proof is in the numbers.

With the current standard of care, the average stay in a NICU for babies with NAS is 22 days. At Hushabye Nursery, it’s eight.

Morphine is used to treat 98% of babies with NAS in the NICU. The team at Hushabye only uses it in 34% of its little patients. They use the “Eat, Sleep, Console” method to reduce the need for drugs. If a baby needs consoling any time - or all the time – the team at Hushabye is equipped and ready to do it.

The care does not end when the babies leave. Hushabye Nursery says they’ve seen an 83% decrease in substance abuse at parents’ 90-day follow-ups. Couple that with a 69% increase in patient safety and a 68% increase in parenting knowledge, Hushabye Nursery’s success is undeniable.

The outpatient team works with parents to get into recovery and connect them with the services they need to get on their feet, live a healthy life, and raise a thriving child.

“Our comprehensive approach addresses the needs of the entire family, from prevention for the child to recovery for the adult,” Hushaby Nursery says.

And when Hushaby Nursery can step in before a baby is born, the story gets even better. Nearly 80% of mothers who worked with Hushabye prenatally safely kept custody of their babies. Of the mothers who did not get that prenatal care, 46% of their babies were placed in foster or kinship care.

“Families heal every single day,” Tara said. “It just takes caregivers with the expertise to make that withdrawal process a little bit easier.”

Hushabye Nursery changes lives. You can help.

Arizona babies with NAS and their families need Hushabye Nursery, and Hushabye Nursery needs you.

While the cost of caring for a baby with NAS is drastically lower than a NICU stay, Medicaid and insurance companies do not cover everything. The cost of care is more than the reimbursements. Some insurance companies will not pay Hushabye if a baby is transferred from the NICU because it already paid the hospital. And then there are families without insurance. They are not turned away.

“We accept those babies, and we care for them without reimbursement or anything because it’s the right thing to do,” Tara said.

Hushabye Nursery in Phoenix
Patient care assistants like this woman make it possible for Hushabye Nursery to give its tiny patients the one-to-one care they need.

It’s not just the health care that costs money. It’s the practical things babies and families with newborns need – diapers, wipes, cribs, bassinets, rocking chairs. There’s transportation for families and security for Hushabye Nursery’s 12-bed facility.

It adds up.

That’s why The Bob & Renee Parsons Foundation gave Hushabye Nursery a unique gift. The Foundation will match your Arizona Charitable Tax Credit donations dollar for dollar up to $1 million.

Hushabye Nursery is a Qualifying Charitable Organization, so you can donate right on your tax forms and help Arizona babies while reducing your tax liability. Use Form 321 (Section B) and Arizona QCO Tax Credit Number 22019 when you do your taxes for 2022. Yes, you can claim a credit on your 2022 taxes for donations made now through today (Tuesday, April 18), and it will qualify for the match.

The maximum donation for single, married filing separately, or head of household is $400. The max for married filing jointly is $800. For gifts received by Tax Day, The Bob & Renee Parsons Foundation will double your contribution to Hushabye Nursery - $400 becomes $800, and $800 becomes $1,600.

“That goes a long way here at Hushabye,” Tara said. “I can guarantee that every single dollar will make a huge difference to a baby and to their family’s lives.”

Hushabye Nursery in Phoenix