KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — In response to a surge of babies being born dependent on drugs and suffering the painful symptoms of neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS), the BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee Health Foundation has awarded a $1 million grant for construction of a new NAS treatment unit at East Tennessee Children’s Hospital in Knoxville.

“Our experience with our members has taught us how widespread a problem NAS is in East Tennessee,” said Scott Pierce, president and CEO of BlueCare Tennessee, BlueCross’ Medicaid subsidiary. “Most of those babies wind up at East Tennessee Children’s Hospital and it’s the right thing to do to help them upgrade their facilities to deal with this problem.”

According to the Tennessee Department of Health, there were 921 NAS births in the state during 2013. The vast majority of those cases were in upper East Tennessee, where the rate per 1,000 live births in five reporting areas averaged 36.3. The rate for the rest of the state is 3.8.

“Babies experiencing withdrawal symptoms need specialized doses of medication and constant supervision,” explained Carlton Long, Children’s Hospital vice president for development and community services. “Our new NAS unit will provide private rooms and a neighborhood care design. This will allow for better patient monitoring, better staff visualization of the unit and enhanced security. Our current NAS unit will be converted back into inpatient rooms.”

Babies with NAS often suffer painful tremors, sensitivity to light and diarrhea, among other symptoms.

East Tennessee Children’s Hospital’s staff is expert in treating NAS. The new NAS unit will, among other features, offer quiet, low-light spaces where trained volunteer cuddlers can hold and comfort the babies, a technique that helps them rest.

Construction of the NAS unit comes as part of a $75 million expansion project being undertaken at East Tennessee Children’s Hospital. Ground was broken for the expansion Aug. 19.

About BlueCross

BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee's mission is to provide its customers and communities with peace of mind through affordable solutions for health and healing, life and living. Founded in 1945, the Chattanooga-based company is focused on reinventing the health plan for its 3 million members in Tennessee and across the country. Through its integrated health management approach, BlueCross provides patient-centric products and services that drive health improvement and positively impact health care quality and value. BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee Inc. is an independent licensee of the BlueCross BlueShield Association. For more information, visit the company's website at www.bcbst.com.