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News / Health / Clark County Health

Legacy Salmon Creek home to Southwest Washington’s only human-milk distribution site

Hospital, Northwest Mothers Milk Bank ‘completely committed to more equitable distribution of milk’

By Nika Bartoo-Smith, Columbian staff reporter
Published: September 29, 2022, 6:00am
4 Photos
Kacia Gauthier, lactation services manager at Legacy Salmon Creek Medical Center, looks over bottles of donated breast milk for infants in need. The Salmon Creek hospital began working with Northwest Mothers Milk Bank in June.
Kacia Gauthier, lactation services manager at Legacy Salmon Creek Medical Center, looks over bottles of donated breast milk for infants in need. The Salmon Creek hospital began working with Northwest Mothers Milk Bank in June. (Photos by Amanda Cowan/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

Legacy Salmon Creek Medical Center joined Northwest Mothers Milk Bank in June, opening the first human-donor breast milk-distribution site in Southwest Washington and eliminating the need for overnight shipments or drives to the milk bank’s Tigard, Ore., location to pick up a prescription.

“We are completely committed to more equitable distribution of milk,” said Joanne Ransom, the clinical director at Northwest Mothers Milk Bank. “This donor site at Legacy Salmon Creek helps eliminate some of those barriers.”

Northwest Mothers Milk Bank opened in 2013. It serves over 70 hospitals in Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Alaska. As of mid-September, the organization had screened over 9,000 donors and 3 million ounces of milk had been donated, according to Ransom.

“We believe that all infants deserve access to safe human milk,” she said.

At Legacy Health, the donor milk distribution is available at the Legacy Salmon Creek Apothecary and works like any drug requiring a prescription. New parents get a prescription from their doctor and are eligible to receive 20 ounces of milk at a time, up to 60 ounces.

Since opening, the pharmacy has dispensed a total of 1,680 ounces of breast milk as of Sept. 23, according to Kacia Gauthier, nurse manager at Legacy Salmon Creek’s neonatal intensive care unit.

“Our hope is it allows moms to relax while waiting for their own milk to come in,” said Gauthier. “I think having that donor milk available just keeps that — if their mindset is that they want to exclusively breast feed, it helps them be able to.”

The donor milk is intended to be used as a bridge for new parents hoping to exclusively breast feed. Many new breast-feeding parents’ milk takes a few days to start producing at full capacity, according to Gauthier. The donated milk is used to make sure the new babies are getting the calories they need in that time. As patients can receive only 60 ounces of milk, the donated milk is only supplemental, Ransom said, not a substitute for mother’s milk or formula.

A few years ago, Kim Robey gave birth to twins six weeks early at Legacy Salmon Creek. The infants spent two weeks in the neonatal intensive care unit. For the first few days after their birth, Robey’s breast milk had not come in, and she was given the option to feed them donor breast milk from Northwest Mothers Milk Bank.

“I feel so grateful to have been able to receive that option,” Robey said.

“I just think it is so wonderful for the parents in Clark County,” she added, speaking about the new distribution site located at Legacy Salmon Creek. “It’s awesome knowing mothers who struggled like me now have a local option.”

Northwest Mothers Milk Bank is always looking for new donors, Ransom said, and many people who relied on donated milk become donors themselves. The process starts with an interview with a lactation consultant, followed by a health history questionnaire. A donor then completes a blood test, paid for by Northwest Mothers Milk Bank, to test for any blood-borne pathogens. Once donors are cleared, they contact their nearest milk drop location.

For more information on how to become a donor, visit www.donatemilk.org/donate-milk.

Once the breast milk is donated, it goes through a multi-step process to ensure safety, according to Ransom. The milk is donated frozen, so first it is thawed out before being combined with milk from at least three other donors to create a more balanced mix of nutrients. Finally, the milk is bottled and heat pasteurized to guarantee that it is safe for newborns.

Currently, insurance does not help pay for the human donor milk, and it costs $90 per 20 ounces at the Legacy Salmon Creek Apothecary, according to Gauthier. However, starting Jan. 1, 2023, health insurance will be required to cover medically necessary donor breast milk for inpatient care, as a result of the passage of Senate Bill 5702 in March.

Legacy Salmon Creek is the only Northwest Mothers Milk Bank distribution site in Southwest Washington. Families looking to access donor milk need a prescription from their health care provider and should call 360-487-3700 to make sure milk is available. The Legacy Salmon Creek Apothecary is open 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays.

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Columbian staff reporter