Every baby born healthy is goal of the Jo Ann Birge Women and Children's Center

New Program Will Reduce The Number of Addicted Babies in Walton and Okaloosa Counties

A new Women and Children’s Center opening soon will reduce the number of babies born addicted to drugs or alcohol by treating pregnant women in a new residential facility. The Jo Ann Birge Women and Children’s Center will be home to as many as 15 pregnant and postpartum women and their children up to three years of age. The women will receive treatment for their addiction, as well as job and life skills training.  

“Our goal is for every baby to be born healthy and substance free,” said Rachel Gillis, CEO of Chautauqua Healthcare Services. “By providing these women and their young children a safe and caring place to live while undergoing treatment, we can reduce the number of addicted babies born in Okaloosa and Walton counties,” she said.

 The new center will open within the next 60 days. Gillis, who is anxiously awaiting the birth of their new facility, said the program has come together with the help of many in the community who are concerned about the rising tide of babies born to mothers with substance abuse problems. This includes grants and donations from IMPACT 100 of NW FL.

“Each year, more than 4,000 babies in the state of Florida are born addicted to drugs,” Gillis said, “and the number is growing every year. These children deserve a better start in life."

The increase in opioid abuse across the country has contributed to the large increase. Babies exposed to drugs in the womb experience many different problems, including fever, tremors, excessive crying, and seizures. The problems can continue for years and result in delayed development or attention problems. 

The Jo Ann Birge Women and Children’s Center was built from the ground up to treat pregnant women for drug addiction. By allowing the women to bring their children up to age three, Gillis said they are increasing the chances that a pregnant mother will enter treatment because they do not have to be concerned about losing custody or finding a caregiver.

After the baby is born, the women will receive training and support for job skills, daily living tools, and parenting skills. A Learning Lab has been created to enhance these skills and allow for positive interactions between mom and baby. Gillis envisions each of the 15 bedrooms with a distinctive style that is home-like and inviting.

Chautauqua Healthcare Services is a non-profit agency that provides mental health and substance abuse treatment services, including outpatient counseling, prevention, education, crisis counseling, psychiatric treatment and wellness programs. For more information, visit chhealthcare.org or call 850.892.8045.


PROGRAM CONTACT: Tracy Blauser     850-892-8030

MEDIA CONTACT: Stephanie King     850-892-8045



850-892-HELP (4357) or 850-267-2220 in South Walton

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