St. Boniface Hospital in Winnipeg is seeing a 42 per cent increase in babies born with symptoms of drug addiction and withdrawal, also known as neonatal abstinence syndrome, which has the Manitoba Nurses Union (MNU) sounding the alarm.
MNU president Darlene Jackson is linking the problem at St. Boniface Hospital to the ongoing meth crisis.
“It just makes sense that the number of babies that are born to moms that have addictions is increasing with the increase in the meth problem,” she said.
The Winnipeg Regional Health Authority (WRHA) said the rise at St. Boniface is partly due to some cases being sent over from Health Sciences Centre.
Both the WRHA and the MNU said the 42 per cent number is not across all hospitals.
“System-wide, there was an eight per cent increase (74 cases to 80) from 2016 to 2017, and a four per cent increase (77 to 80) from 2014 to 2017,” said the WRHA.
Regardless, the rise is putting a strain on the hospitals neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), as babies suffering from withdrawal require more treatment and for longer periods of time, according to Jackson.
She is calling on the WRHA to increase funding.
“It’s concerning because it definitely puts more work load out there in a system, in NICU, that’s already struggling with as nursing shortage,” she said.
Jackson also noted a lack of public awareness.
“We’ve done really well with public education and awareness on alcohol and pregnancy and I think we need to talk about that with drug use as well,” she said.
The WRHA said it already assesses mothers for substance abuse and provides appropriate referrals.
“While we take our role seriously as a key player in educating the public about the health risks of drug use, there is no question that this is not only a health issue, but a community issue requiring a community-wide response,” a WRHA spokesperson said to Global News in an emailed statement.
As for NICU nursing resources, the WRHA said it addressed the issue when it announced $3.2 million in funding which will be used to hire 30 new NICU-trained nurses and creating regular capacity for an additional 11 beds for babies.
“This new funding will allow us to better plan for the demand by having them covered by scheduled staff 24/7, rather than using overtime to meet peak demand.”
The WRHA does not keep stats specific to meth use among mothers. It track babies with NAS but not the substance used by the mother.
Manitoba Families said supports are made available for babies born with symptoms of drug addiction.
“A baby who shows signs of addiction at birth is not automatically apprehended into care,” a spokesperson said in an email.
“A child and family services worker would work with the mother to determine next steps, which might include addictions treatment or other support services so that she can parent effectively.”
Several agencies in the city provide specialized supports and programs, including Klinic and the FASD clinic, the province said.
Healthy Child Manitoba Resources
Mental Health Information and Services
In Winnipeg: Klinic Crisis Line: 204-786-8686 or 1-888-322-3019
Outside of Winnipeg: Manitoba Farm and Rural Support Services: 1-866-367-3276
Manito Ikwe Kagiikwe (The Mothering Project)
Phone: (204) 589-9409
This program is a single access site located at Mount Carmel Clinic at 886 Main St.
It provides vulnerable mothers obstetric supports, nutrition and food preparation classes, parenting and child development support, addiction support and trauma informed programming.
WATCH: Winnipeg’s Meth Crisis Part 1: What is Meth?