As the opioid epidemic rages on, it’s not only adults that are affected by dangerous drugs.
Babies can be born with a physical dependence to addictive drugs if they already have the illicit substances in their system by being exposed to drugs in utero.
In such instances, Massachusetts law dictates that hospital personnel report a child suffering from substance abuse to the Department of Children and Families (DCF) immediately after birth.
But for 80 children who were born exposed to such substances, that wasn’t the case.
The state auditor, Suzanne M. Bump, released an audit on Thursday of the UMass Memorial Medical Center’s compliance with the mandatory reporting requirement.
The requirement details that an oral report must be made immediately and a written report needs to be filed within 48 hours of the oral communication.
The audit found that 80 of the 456 substance-exposed births were not reported to DCF within the necessary timeframes.
In one case, the incident was never reported, according to the audit.
Bump is now calling for the hospital to improve its reporting and filing procedures for such births.
“These newborns are among the most vulnerable residents in our state,” Bump said in a statement. “It is critical that UMass Memorial Medical Center improve its processes to ensure that all substance-exposed newborns are reported to the state.”
Babies who have been exposed to such substances are at risk for a variety of medical conditions and developmental disabilities, along with abuse and neglect, according to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.
“Their long-term health and safety is dependent on making sure the Department of Children and Families is aware of the circumstances so that the agency can work with the hospital and the family to develop appropriate short- and long-term plans for the baby’s wellbeing,” Bump said.
The medical center said in a response to the audit that it will enhance controls and improve protocols to ensure that all mandated reports are filed within the dictated time frames.
Recent data suggests that the number of drug-addicted babies being born in Massachusetts has increased. The rate in the commonwealth is about 16 in every 1,000 births, according to WBUR, which is about three times the national average.
“The dedicated caregivers at our medical center work diligently to provide care for both mothers and babies in these challenging situations,” a statement from UMass Memorial read. “We understand the importance of the state’s reporting system and have agreed to enhance controls to ensure that all mandated reporters at our medical center file the proper reports within the required 48 hours of making an oral report to the Department of Children and Families of suspected abuse, neglect or physical dependence upon an addictive drug by a child or newborn.”