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Sen. Nelson In Jacksonville: Politics Can’t Get In Way Of Care For Drug-Addicted Babies

Sen. Bill Nelson meets with UF Health doctors and nurses Tuesday.
Lindsey Kilbride
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
Sen. Bill Nelson meets with UF Health doctors and nurses Tuesday.
Credit Lindsey Kilbride / WJCT News
The Florida Channel
Sen. Bill Nelson meets with UF Health doctors and nurses Tuesday.

UF Health Jacksonville doctors and the hospital’s CEO say more money is needed to deal with babies born addicted to opioids — that was the message to U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) when he visited the hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit Tuesday.

A baby with neonatal abstinence syndrome will have a high-pitched cry and be almost impossible to console, in addition to having tremors or trouble nursing. UF Health nurse Ginny Murphy said five years ago she’d see a baby with these symptoms once a month.

“But now I’m seeing them almost two and three every time I come to work,” she said.

Doctors told Nelson babies with withdrawal symptoms are under observation for for about a week, but treatment for the most severe cases can last up to two months. Many are on Medicaid or uninsured — after all, the safety net hospital serves many of Jacksonville’s poorest patients.

“Medicaid pays roughly 60 percent of cost,” UF Health CEO Russ Armistead said. “We have to  figure out how to cover remaining cost.”

Nelson said after hearing from the staff, his message to fellow senators is this:  “What we want to see is that the money for these programs, through primarily Medicaid, is not taken away, and that’s exactly what the Republican healthcare plan is doing.”

The Senate is considering a plan that would repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. Nelson, a Democrat, says he’ll vote against it as it stands.

Nelson said he’s been studying the issue of babies addicted to opioids at birth, noting Duval has Florida’s highest amount of cases after Pinellas County.

NICU doctors and nurses told him additional funding could help with more than withdrawal treatment. Pediatrics Chair Mark Hudak said 90 percent of babies born to addicted mothers aren’t planned, compared to 50 percent of all births. He said that means women going through addiction treatment need more access to birth control.

The staff also said post-partum treatment for mothers is important because babies recovering from addiction aren’t the easiest to deal with, so new moms may need help. Addicted babies are also more likely to die from sudden infant death syndrome or have mental issues later in life.

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Reporter Lindsey Kilbride can be reached at, 904-358-6359 or on Twitter at @lindskilbride.

Copyright 2020 WJCT News 89.9. To see more, visit WJCT News 89.9.

Lindsey Kilbride was WJCT's special projects producer until Aug. 28, 2020. She reported, hosted and produced podcasts like Odd Ball, for which she was honored with a statewide award from the Associated Press, as well as What It's Like. She also produced VOIDCAST, hosted by Void magazine's Matt Shaw, and the ADAPT podcast, hosted by WJCT's Brendan Rivers.