NEWS: The Courier-Journal, December 28, 2014

Address maternal addiction, support Freedom House

Jennifer Hancock, Special to The Courier-Journal

12:06 a.m. EST December 28, 2014

Imagine a newborn baby entering the world and almost immediately encountering weeks of vomiting, diarrhea, fever, seizures — and possibly more severe and long-term physical and developmental challenges that have a lifelong impact.

All are typical symptoms of neonatal abstinence syndrome, occurring when a newborn is exposed to addictive opiate drugs such as heroin in the womb.

The heroin epidemic, increasingly becoming a public health crisis in Louisville, has been covered thoroughly in the pages of The Courier-Journal. Medical writer Laura Ungar has reported that statewide hospitalizations for newborns going through withdrawal from heroin and other drugs increased more than 2,400 percent over a decade.

Fortunately, however, Volunteers of America offers the solution to help pregnant women beat addiction and deliver a healthy baby.

Our program we call Freedom House is a residential addiction treatment option for pregnant and postpartum women that uniquely allows them to bring their children with them. Our program is one of only three in Kentucky and the only fully accredited program of its kind in the commonwealth. Upon intake, women receive intensive therapy and case management, immediate referral to prenatal care, life and parenting skills education, nutrition education, and other supportive services throughout their pregnancy and after they deliver.

We know our approach to treating the disease of addiction in young mothers works. And we know the financial and social implications for our community are significant. For every baby born drug-free to a woman we serve, University of Louisville researchers estimate $250,000 of savings in post-delivery, public-sector health care costs. With 93 healthy babies born to women at Freedom House since its creation, an estimated $23 million in cost savings has been realized for our community and state.

Our success in helping a mother-to-be overcome addiction and deliver a healthy baby hinges on our ability to offer her immediate access to treatment. In this year alone, 56 women who needed our help were placed on a waiting list — our largest number ever.

To meet this growing demand, we have embarked on an urgent campaign to raise $600,000 to renovate and double the capacity of Freedom House. Phase one, near completion, creates a new 12-bed unit for women during their pregnancy, while phase two includes a complete upgrade and renovation of the current program site — including six apartments for post-partum women and their children.

A little more than half of the funding for the project has been secured to date and a three-year, $1.3 million grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services will cover operating costs. Funding for bricks and mortar, which provides desperately needed space for Freedom House to operate, is harder to come by. That's why Volunteers of America is calling on the community for support.

As we move closer to achieving our goal, we ask you to join us in supporting women who need access to treatment so they can bring a healthy baby into the world and enter recovery from this disease of addiction that is plaguing our community.

If you have a civic group, faith community or business that would be open to hearing about our innovative approach to treating addiction in pregnant and parenting mothers, please contact me. I would love to share our story and shed light on the stigma that has existed around maternal drug addiction for far too long.

Having a clean and healthy start to life makes all the difference in a child's ability to live the life we dream of for all our children. We see proof of it in the faces of the 93 healthy babies born to mothers we've served at Freedom House.

As you read this, there is a short window of time remaining to make a year-end charitable contribution — perhaps a gift in honor of a loved one who is struggling with addiction, or a friend in recovery. My own financial pledge of support to Freedom House is inspired by the personal and professional connection I have to these services and is made in honor of Janie Burks, president and CEO of Volunteers of America of Kentucky and her forthcoming retirement in March 2015. This gift honors her outstanding leadership during her tenure, and the legacy she hopes to leave by ensuring that Freedom House will be poised to address the public health crisis of maternal drug addiction well into the future.

Jennifer Hancock is the president-elect at Volunteers of America of Kentucky.

How to support Freedom House

•Make an end-of-year or recurring gift online at

•Take a tour of Freedom House. Contact Jennifer Hancock at (502) 636-4649 or to schedule your tour.

•Learn more about the program at