Crisis Response: SLUCare OB Expands Care for Moms-to-Be Hooked on Opioids

The WISH (Women and Infant Substance Help) Center provides comprehensive, high-risk maternity care for women who are dependent on opioid drugs. The center, run by SLUCare physician Jaye Shyken, M.D., opened at SSM Health St. Mary's Hospital on Oct. 13. 

It is the only center of its kind in the region.  

Jaye Shyken, M.D.
SLUCare Maternal Fetal Medicine specialist Jaye Shyken, M.D. is an associate professor of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Women’s Health at Saint Louis University and the medical director of the WISH Center.

The Center started out in 2014 as a half-day clinic that operated within SLUCare's maternal and fetal medicine group. As opioid abuse reached epidemic proportions, the number of babies born dependent on these drugs also has increased dramatically. 

A dedicated, full-time practice was needed to keep up with patient demand from across the bi-state area.  

“The WISH Center is the culmination of two years of work. But, it’s also a down payment into our future work.  We have so much more work to do and so much further to go,” said Jaye Shyken, M.D., associate professor in the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Women’s Health at Saint Louis University and a  SLUCare Maternal Fetal Medicine specialist and medical director of the WISH Center.

Shyken recently received the Dr. Corinne Walentik Provider Award from the Maternal Child and Family Health Coalition for her dedication to improving maternal health in the St. Louis region. The award is named in memory of Corinne Walentik, M.D., MPH, a professor of pediatrics in the division of neonatology at SLU and SSM Health Cardinal Glennon Children's Hospital. Walentik passed away in 2012. 

Mothers with addiction issues have special needs for themselves and their unborn children. Shyken told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that addicted patients need drug intervention treatment, counseling, frequent monitoring and other social services. 

The WISH Center’s team of providers includes a maternal fetal medicine specialist, a nurse practitioner who is trained in high-risk obstetrics, nurses, a nurse coordinator, social workers and a dedicated OB pharmacist to provide care for patients.  They also coordinate with behavioral medicine therapists.

It’s important that we normalize treatment for this disorder. We have to consider it chronic like a medical problem and we also have to normalize it because this is a part of the fabric of our society right now.”

Jaye Shyken, M.D. 

The team is working on developing a full two-year program that would continue care for new moms after the baby is born when the risk for relapse is greatest, according to Donna Bernard, director of maternity services at SSM Health. This includes partnering with outside organizations for things like job skills, housing, life skills and parenting to help moms maintain their sobriety. 

At the WISH Center, pregnant women are prescribed buprenorphine, or they receive methadone from a federally licensed program.  These medications alleviate withdrawal from opioids and target drug craving. 

Shyken told KSDK-TV that the chance of relapse is very high for women who try to quit ‘cold turkey’ while pregnant. The goal is to start moms-to-be on buprenorphine or methadone as early as possible to minimize pregnancy complications.  Recently buprenorphine has shown to reduce the length of hospital stay for newborns compared to women who take methadone.

“It’s so easy as a society to look at drug addiction as a personal failure,” Shyken said. “But the very definition of addiction is that of a primary, neurobiological disorder that involves the reward pathways in the brain. Drugs permanently alter the brain and it had many far-reaching effects that are medical, spiritual, psychological and social. Our mission is to really start to address all of these things.”

“It’s important that we normalize treatment for this disorder. We have to consider it chronic like a medical problem and we also have to normalize it because this is a part of the fabric of our society right now.”

The WISH Center is located at 1035 Bellevue Ave on SSM Health St. Mary’s campus. The clinic includes ultrasound, fetal monitoring,  examination rooms and a comfortable room for initiating treatment. 

 “I couldn’t be more proud of the work Dr. Shyken, Donna and the entire team have shown over the last two years to address this need in our community,” said Travis Capers, president of SSM Health St. Mary’s Hospital. “They’ve shown respect and compassion for their patients, never forgetting that addiction is a disease.”


SLUCare Physician Group

SLUCare Physician Group is the academic medical practice of Saint Louis University, with more than 500 health care providers and 1,200 staff members in hospitals and medical offices throughout the St. Louis region. SLUCare physicians are among the most highly trained in their fields - more than 50 specialties in all - and are national and international experts, renowned for research and innovations in medicine.

SSM Health

SSM Health is a Catholic, not-for-profit health system serving the comprehensive health needs of communities across the Midwest through one of the largest integrated delivery systems in the nation.

SSM Health St. Mary’s Hospital – St. Louis is a 525-bed hospital specializing in high-risk obstetrics. A teaching hospital, St. Mary’s is home to an accredited internal medicine residency program and to Saint Louis University School of Medicine Obstetrics/Gynecology and Family Practice residency programs.