MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- Donations come every day, and more than 250 "cuddlers" have volunteered to comfort newborn babies enduring the torment of drug withdrawal when a unique treatment center opens this fall in southern West Virginia.
Privately operated and financially independent, Lily's Place in Huntington will carefully wean infants off opiates and other drugs under medical supervision - but outside a neonatal intensive care. And while it's partially modeled after a decades-old Washington state program, Lily's Place aims to go a step further, working with addicted mothers in hopes of sending infants home to safe environments.
"You can't fix the baby," says clinical adviser Sara Murray, "without fixing the family."
But generosity and good intentions don't always pay the bills, and the founder of the Pediatric Interim Care Center, a partially state-funded program in Kent, Wash., worries whether Lily's Place will find the stable source of money it needs.
"It's very hard to set up a program like mine. I've been to so many states, and they have not been able to put it together," says Barbara Drennen, whose facility was born of the 1980s "crack baby" epidemic and needs up to $1.6 million a year to operate.
"If you don't have continuous funding - and that's a battle every year - you absolutely can't do it," Drennen says. "You can get the clothes. You can get the donations. But that is not going to keep you going. You need big money to do that."
The co-founders of Lily's Place believe that between Medicaid and foster care reimbursements, and eventually billing private insurers, their plan will work. It has to, they say. The need is too great.
At Cabell-Huntington Hospital, one in 13 babies is born to a drug-addicted mother. Some days, they fill 70 percent of the neonatal intensive care unit, or NICU. That takes resources from other critically ill babies.
Murray, a registered nurse at Cabell-Huntington, says 28 percent of the babies born there test positive for opiate exposure. That's more than double the national average, Murray says, but it's likely higher because not every baby is tested.
Murray has worked with Mary Brown, a hospital volunteer, to turn a donated medical office building into a 17-room haven for as many as 31 infants at a time. Lily's Place will ease the pressure on NICUs at Cabell Huntington and other hospitals, while ensuring babies still get medical care from a team of 29 nurses and a supervising medical director. Should an emergency arise, Cabell Huntington is just six blocks away.
Churches have donated bedding and diapers. Donors have provided everything from beds and rocking chairs to flooring and decorating services. Others provided materials at deep discounts, and recovering male addicts from The Healing Place have labored on renovations for free.
"Of course we have concerns" about long-term funding, Murray says. "Anybody that's going to take on an endeavor like that will have concerns. But I really think it's going to be OK. I absolutely believe the community will step up and stay involved."
Brown, a housewife and mother of three sons, says she has "no expertise in anything, except when I ask people for things, they generally will find a way to do it."
She works 50 hours a week on Lily's Place, collaborating with the state Department of Health and Human Resources on licensing and reimbursement issues, writing grant requests and finding contractors.