First lady Melania Trump visited a Boston hospital Wednesday to meet with caregivers and administrators of a pioneering program that uses cuddling to help infants who are born dependent on drugs or alcohol.
Outside Boston Medical Center in the city's South End, as many as 200 workers protested the visit, saying the first lady represented an administration who they say has discouraged immigrants from seeking health care with tough immigration policies. Some carried signs that read "BMC cares for all patients" and "We believe that healthy women = healthy families = healthy society."
"Families need to be together, that the best way to support children's development is for them to be with their families," Carmen Rosa Norona, a psychotherapist working with young children affected by trauma, told The Associated Press. "That being the children, having the possibility to grow up with their families, is a human right in that the policies of separating families are a violation of those rights."
"This is not a person that we want to come to our home, our hospital," added Cecilia Girard, a 26-year employee who works as a nurse-midwife.
Inside the hospital, Melania Trump, who was accompanied by Health and Human Services Alex Azar, told hospital staff that she was "very focused" on their work with babies born with neonatal abstinence syndrome, a withdrawal condition newborns experience after being chronically exposed to opioids during the mother’s pregnancy. The hospital also works with expectant mothers who misuse drugs or alcohol.
"I hope today's visit helps shine a light on programs like yours," said the first lady, who was visiting as part of her "Be Best" initiative.
Health experts say cuddling helps lower stress in infants born to addicted women by increasing parental presence at the infant's bedside, skin-to-skin contact and breastfeeding, according to BMC.
After listening to the doctors and administrators, Mrs. Trump then spoke with doctors in front of the hospital's Pediatric Intensive Care Unit. The White House said Trump met with children and families enrolled in a hospital recovery program aimed at providing families the education and resources needed to overcome the effects of addiction
Azar emphasized that the Trump administration has put a special focus on the problem, including advancing clinical trials on neonatal opioid withdrawal.
"Neonatal abstinence syndrome is one of the most heartbreaking parts of the opioid crisis," Azar said.
Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., released a statement Wednesday saying that Trump’s visit is “a chance to remind and educate the Secretary and First Lady of the ways in which our medical centers work to eliminate disparities and ensure that all people, regardless of income and immigration status, have a fundamental human right to healthcare.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.