K. Dawn Forbes, MD, NASCEND

K. Dawn Forbes, MD, MS, FAAP, Founder and CEO, NASCEND


  • Board certified in neonatal and perinatal medicine and pediatrics and is a nationally recognized expert in the care of infants and families affected by maternal opioid use, addiction and infant withdrawal.
  • Founded NASCEND to advance better outcomes for infants and their families through education, training and innovative technology.
  • As a practicing neonatologist, Dr. Forbes provides direct care for substance-exposed infants, provides opioid-assisted treatment (OAT), counseling and education for pregnant and parenting women and is the principal investigator for several ongoing research projects.
  • Served on the board, volunteered with families and served as medical director at ChooseWell Communities, an organization that supports women in recovery and their children through housing, integrative healthy lifestyles programs and other supportive services.
  • Volunteer at March of Dimes and supports families through the Salvation Army.
  • Enjoys domestic and international travel, photography, hiking, cooking, cycling and scuba diving, including underwater photography. 
  • 2019 Hosparus Health Leadership in Healthcare MediStar Nominee 

Medical News: How have you made a difference in our healthcare community?

Dawn Forbes: As a practicing neonatologist in Louisville, Kentucky, I took on the problem of neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) as its prevalence exponentially increased within our hospital system alongside the rise of maternal substance use disorder (SUD). I was certain we could do more to help these substance-exposed newborns, so I developed a comprehensive program including treatment guidelines, education, parental support and community resources. Our new approach changes the experience of substance-exposed infants and their families and puts them on a path for a more successful future.

In addition, I became involved with one of the largest national addiction treatment centers in the country, Center for Behavioral Health, where I work locally to provide prenatal consultation, education, resources and medication assisted treatment (methadone and buprenorphine) for women with SUD who are pregnant or early parenting.

MN: Please describe a specific result driven by your work.

KDF: The guidelines, education and training I developed and provided within my healthcare system significantly improved the outcomes for opioid-exposed infants (OEI) resulting in:

  • 73 percent decrease the length of hospital stay
  • 39 percent reduction in the number of infants who require opioid treatment
  • 82 percent decrease in length of treatment with opioid medication
  • 71 percent reduction in cost of patient care

Recognizing OEI as a national problem that requires a comprehensive solution, I launched NASCEND to develop an innovative educational platform with proven guidelines, supported by scalable technology to impact better outcomes nationally.

NASCEND transforms the experience of substance-exposed infants and their families. Our results are life changing. Infants receiving the NASCEND Continuum of Care are less likely to be admitted to the NICU, need pharmacology, and spend less time in the hospital.

We have trained more than 5,000 healthcare providers and impacted the lives of 1.4 million newborns in over 30 states.

MN: Looking back on the past year, how has the healthcare system changed and what is the medical community doing to adapt?

KDF: We’re focused on improving outcomes for the substance-affected infant and their families. Looking back on the past year, we’ve seen that although the opioid epidemic and the infants affected by maternal substance use disorder have grown from a regional to a national concern, recent data gives us encouragement that the tide may be turning.

There is a growing awareness of this public health issue and its repercussions for our entire society which has created more investment and support for interventions both at the national and local level. The federal government has prioritized improved access to treatment and recovery services; increased use of overdose-reversing drugs; strengthening our understanding of the epidemic through better public health surveillance; support for research on pain and addiction; and advances in pain management.

There is also a heightened awareness of infants facing withdrawal and there is more of an effort and urgency to promote a standardization of care. Researchers are looking at the evolution of the disease, new approaches to care, and taking a more evidence-based look at potentials solutions.

The physician community, for their part, are leading the charge within their healthcare systems. Without a standardized approach to care readily available many physicians are adapting, taking the small amount of information out there, creating programs and looking for solutions.

MN: What is the biggest challenge your organization will face in the upcoming year?

KDF: Finding the resources to continue to advance our efforts to provide solutions for healthcare providers addressing the needs of opioid-exposed infants and their families.

While much attention and funding has been given to the opioid crisis it hasn’t yet trickled down to the individual hospital level. The care providers are charged with caring for the smallest patients affected by substance use disorder and their families without the needed resources or national standards of care to do so.

We are partnering with hospitals to provide training, education and technology which will universally standardize practices that transform healthcare for substance-affected infants, their families and providers across the nation.