Couple’s Mesa center first in state for drug babies

Jo and Brian Jones this weekend opened the state’s first non-hospital facility for treating newborns that are suffering drug withdrawal symptoms. (Kimberly Carrillo/AFN Staff Photographger)

A medical facility designed to care for newborns suffering from drug withdrawals is now open in Mesa, making it the first of its kind in the state and the fourth of its kind in the country.

Jacob’s Hope, 1150 N. Country Club Drive, is a new interim care center specifically for babies born to moms who are or have been on addicting drugs.

Founded by Jo Jones and operated by her and her husband, Brian, the facility provides an alternative to a hospital newborn intensive care unit, where drug-addicted babies are generally treated.

Every year, hundreds of babies in Arizona are born exposed to opioids, according to the Arizona Statewide Task Force on Preventing Prenatal Exposure to Alcohol and Other Drugs.

From 2008 to 2015, more than half a million newborns were exposed to some type of drug during pregnancy, while neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) – where newborns experience withdrawal symptoms – increased from 145 cases to 470. An increase of 224 percent. NAS can cause low birth weight, body shakes, excessive crying and physical and mental challenges later in life.

Hospital units are “not really equipped for this because we’ve learned, from doctors out there, that drug babies are typically healthy but they’re suffering from symptoms that cause bedlam,” said Brian, who is executive director of the facility. “Oftentimes, they get put into a corner of a NICU and they’re given fairly massive – not big – doses of morphine.”

“What we’re trying to say to the medical profession out here is, as politely as we can, we know that you really don’t have a facility that’s equipped for these babies. That’s what we’re here for. That’s what we’re made for.”

The couple dedicated the sanctuary to their son, Jacob, who was adopted as a drug-exposed newborn in 1988 and later died during a drug-related incident in his mid-20s.

Jacob’s Hope is licensed as a behavioral healthcare facility under the Arizona Department of Health Services and offers immediate short-term care, a detailed plan for withdrawal and therapeutic nurturing techniques.

The nonprofit will serve six infants per month before ramping up to 10 a month for a year – eventually catering up to 12 newborns at a time.

Unlike the high-paced atmosphere of the NICU, the care center will provide a quiet, calm environment, which is key for babies struggling through withdrawals, the Joneses said.

“This looks like a nursery, and yet when you see the oxygen and feeding tubes and all those types of things that we have, you quickly realize that the level of care we’re equipped to give is significantly higher than just a nursery,” said Brian.

Each of the six rooms can house up to two newborns, complete with a rocking chair, cribs and pastel colored walls.

A bathing room sits down the hall, stacked with diapers, onesies, warm towels and washcloths, while a small kitchen is available for the nursing staff to prepare bottles and meals for themselves.

The ultimate purpose of the center, Jo explained, is to prevent what happened to their son from happening to other drug-exposed newborns.

Jacob was 3 days old when Jo and Brian took him in. Medical officials warned he may have been exposed to drugs during his mother’s pregnancy, but other than that, no resources or information regarding the possible long-term side effects were provided.

Growing up, Jacob had large brown eyes, tan skin and a handsome smile. He was charismatic, charming and brilliant, with a photographic memory.

“We used to say to him, ‘You should have been an attorney. You can convince people that the sky is yellow,’” said Jo. “I mean, he just was incredible, smart and all of those things.”

But looking back, the mother said she now recognizes the warning signs of prenatal substance exposure.

When Jacob approached his teens, he started exhibiting behavioral and emotional problems.

“When he turned 15, it was like everything just hit. He started having emotional issues and we were taking him to doctors and counselors and psychiatrists,” said Jo. “He had a volatile temper. It would just build up and then he would kind of explode. It wound up being difficult.”

At some point, Jacob was introduced to drugs and alcohol, beginning a lifelong battle with addiction.

He went on to serve in the military for four years before he died at the age of 25 after consuming a bad batch of cocaine.

Devastated by her son’s death, Jo found solace in a book that changed her life – Barbara Drennen’s “Caring for Drug-Exposed Infants.”

The book details the crippling side effects drug-exposed newborns face and highlights the author’s original care facility, the Pediatric Interim Care Center in Washington state – which soon became the model for Jacob’s Hope.

It was in this moment that Jo realized her son met the criteria of those newborns. With Barbara’s work as her inspiration, Jacob’s Hope was born about a year and a half later.

But the road to success wasn’t easy.

The two parents quickly realized the difficulties of starting a nonprofit, especially one that had never existed in the state of Arizona before.

“We have had countless situations where a door was closed and God was out there saying, ‘Just keep going, keep going because this is going to happen,’” said Brian, adding:

“Imagine what it’s like creating an entity in the state that doesn’t exist. There’s no map. There is no list. There is no blueprint. There is nobody out there to tell you this is what we did. That’s what this team for Jacob’s Hope has done.”

After two and a half years of renovating, retrofitting, inspection and licensing reviews, Jacob’s Hope finally secured a license from the Arizona Department of Health Services. The final step of gaining its Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System insurance provider information is in the works and will be completed soon.

Both Brian and Jo attribute the facility’s success to its dedicated team as well as donations from supporters across the state. They estimate they have received up to $160,000 in donations and products so far.

While the facility only caters to newborns at the moment, Brian expressed that there is a possibility it could expand to caring for the mothers down the road.

The facility is in its beginning stages of opening and expects to have its first patients by May.

 

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