Newborn nursery in Kent cares for drug-addicted babies

The Pediatric Interim Care Center- the Newborn Nursery (PICC) in downtown Kent is a solid, stately looking brick building. The perfect home for such an important non-profit. PICC is the first and only full-time newborn nursery bringing drug addicted infants through withdrawal in the country. Since 1990, they have helped more than 2,500 drug exposed newborns through the difficult first weeks. They have trained hundreds from all over the world in the recognition and therapeutic handling of drug exposed infants.

In the 1980s, Barbara Drennen and Barbara Richards were both caregivers specializing in special needs babies in their homes. They collaborated on therapeutic techniques for safeguarding drug-exposed infants through the difficult and dangerous period of withdrawal. Hospitals began asking Drennen and Richards to design a center formalizing the kind of care they were providing in-home. In response, Drennen and Richards founded Pediatric Interim Care Center in Kent.

Their mission statement says it best: “The Pediatric Interim Care Center (PICC) provides immediate, short-term medical care between hospital and home for medically fragile infants suffering from prenatal drug exposure at a savings to the taxpayers of Washington State. PICC also provides educational and support services to the community in the recognition and management of substance abused infants.”

PICC normally has 10-16 babies in their care at a time, who on average stay around 32 days. Of course this depends on the drugs they were exposed to, and if they need additional medical care. Many babies have 3-4 drugs in their system. Methadone is the worst to withdrawal from for the babies.

There are characteristics and symptoms that drug exposed babies will have in common. Hypersensitivity to stimuli, including light, bright colors, touch, or loud noises. Even the act of swallowing or the closeness of another person can make a baby frantic. Changes in muscle tone, and gastrointestinal problems are also some common symptoms.

When asked what the most challenging part of her job as executive director at PICC was, Drennen said that it was making sure the babies were represented properly and finding the funding to keep them safe and comfortable.

“When they grow they do very well. They are beautiful, viable and need to be represented properly. These children are the products of all children,” said Drennen.

PICC is self- funded with grants and the generosity from the community. Last month they had their annual fundraiser, which brings in about $100,000 each year. It costs about $1.7 million to run the center annually. Thanks to the community as well, everything the babies have is brand new. They run very efficiently, only owing the rest of the building payments, built in 2006 and their daily expenses.

The center has about 45 employees and 50-100 volunteers. There are many volunteer opportunities besides working with the babies and Drennen said they feel very fortunate to have so many people offering to help.

They transport babies from 20-26 different hospitals all over the state of Washington, so Drennen’s hometown of Kent was a perfect, centralized place to open the center. It being right on the bus routes was an added bonus.

“I’m proud to be in Kent,” said Drennen.

The best successes for Drennen is having “their children” come back to visit, now in college or with their own children, and so doing well.

In the future, she wants PICC to here for the children, to be able to work for families and to continue training people from other states who are trying to set up similar centers. Drennen had no idea how far-reaching this would end up being. People visit from all over the world to learn about the program. They’ve had people from the White House visit in the past and right now they are working with a team in New Zealand.

Drennen’s favorite parts of her job is being there with the babies and working with her staff. They all have the same passion for the children and want what’s best for them.

“I love my job. Twenty-seven years I’ve been doing it, and I love every piece of it,” said Drennen with a smile.

Michelle Gehlman-Teeter

Michelle Gehlman-Teeter is a writer and photographer from Kent, Washington. Michelle is a contributor to She loves to find interesting places to go and fun things to do and share them with her readers. Click links to see her writing, photography or Facebook page.

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