Infant Abduction Prevention, Part 3

[This is the third and final part of our series on infant abduction prevention for hospitals. You can read Part 1 (background on infant abductions) and Part 2 (the "M.O." of abductors) if you haven't already.]

Why are Hospitals Targets?

Part of a hospital's image has been to maintain an open door policy for anyone that wants to come to visit a sick family member or loved-one. If you're close to my age, you may even remember when people used to go to the hospital just to see the babies. There was nothing unusual at all about being on the baby floor.

But as crime has continued to grow in this country, we find we are not guaranteed safety in our businesses, our schools, or even in our own homes. All of these places have become targets of criminal assault, and as a result, we have been forced to increase security in every facet of our public and private life -- all of this in an effort to keep crime away. Most hospitals have been slow to follow suit. Even today, many hospitals still have the same open door policy they have practiced for decades.

Hospitals are targets because they are open to the public 24 hours a day, seven days a week. These public access facilities have been conditioned over the years to allow scores of people from all walks of life to enter their institutions unchallenged, day or night. The definition of "public access" means that all persons that enter a hospital seeking treatment, or to visit a loved-one, have the right to come and go as they please, and for many facilities, this is still the practice. This mindset does not take into consideration that there are people in our society that hold no institution sacred, and their sole reason to enter a hospital is to commit a crime against a person, the hospital, or both. Unfortunately because of the continuing criminal threat against hospitals, it's no longer possible to practice an open door policy.

For a hospital to be safe in today's world, everyone coming into and going out of the hospital has to be identified and controlled. This is essential to prevent unauthorized persons from entering a hospital to cause harm. Security protection has been extremely difficult in the past because of unrealistic and misinterpreted fire codes. Strict enforcement of fire codes has prevented hospitals from securing fire doors that lead to the outside. An unsecured fire door, leading to the outside, provides an escape route for anyone that comes into the hospital for the purpose of committing a criminal act against the hospital. After what seems forever, old fire codes are now being replaced with new codes that will allow fire exits to be locked and alarmed by a time delay lock and alarm system. This type of "lockdown" capability can prevent unauthorized persons from entering or leaving the hospital undetected.

Another significant problem with providing security for older hospitals is their inherently open design makes them difficult to secure. Traditionally hospitals have been designed for patient and family convenience. Security was never taken into consideration during the design and construction phase. Because of this inherent problem, retrofitting security protection in an older facility is a security nightmare, not to mention unbelievably expensive to the hospitals.

Where do you suppose a cash-strapped hospital, faced with the choice between purchasing an expensive infant electronic tagging system, or a much-needed piece of medical equipment, is going to spend their money? Unless they are a recent victim of an infant abduction or are being sued for negligent security for some reason, I think it's safe to say where the money will most likely go. Hospitals are being faced with enormous downsizing and decreasing revenues as a result of "Managed Care", or should I say "Mismanaged Care"?

So what can hospitals do? Well, they can accept the risk and hope it never happens ... or they can reduce the risk by incorporating physical security, access control, and staff and parental education in their mother/baby and pediatric units. Remember, not all hospitals are targets, only hospitals that have little or no security. These are the ones usually targeted by the abductor.

What Should Hospitals Do?

Hospitals must take the threat of infant abductions seriously. Those that fail to implement preventive measures could see a hard-earned reputation lost in less than a minute -- the time it takes for an abductor to snatch a baby and run. In addition, hospitals that provide less than reasonable security for their mother/baby and pediatric units face a significant exposure to litigation.

Hospitals have a responsibility to take reasonable action to prevent foreseeable harm to those in its care. By not providing reasonable security for their mother/baby and pediatric units, hospitals have been found negligent for the gross disregard of the safety of infants delivered in those hospitals. The plaintiff may also allege that by not providing adequate security, the defendant hospital displayed outrageous, wanton, and reckless conduct because the hospital knew, or should have known, that its lack of security and appropriately written protocols, policies, and procedures, endangered the rights, safety, and lives of their newborn infants. In the authors' experience and as a result of media attention to infant abductions, courts define foresee ability (a legal term for knew, or should have known) broadly, making it almost impossible for the hospital to successfully claim they were not familiar with the fact that infants are being abducted from hospitals.

Hospital Actions:

The first thing a hospital should do is to have a healthcare security professional conduct a threat assessment that identifies and analyzes vulnerabilities in their mother/baby and pediatric units. After the initial "Threat Assessment," the hospital should develop an annual self assessment program. Once vulnerabilities and threats have been identified, a security management program should be developed to correct known risk. All written security management programs should also be re-enforced with education and training of all employees. A good staff training program starts with making employees aware of the threat of infant abduction both nationally and locally. Staff should understand the gravity of the problem and learn the history of hospital infant abductions.

A physical security assessment should identify any need that may exist for security cameras, electronic controlled access, locks and alarms, and infant electronic protection. Electronic Security measures, including access control, security cameras, and an infant alarm system, can assist nursing personnel in maintaining a constant watch over infants. However, physical security systems are not enough alone to prevent an infant abduction.

Of all the things that hospitals should do, parent education is probably the most important. As we mentioned earlier, we have learned that the majority of newborns in this country are taken from the mother in the mother's room where she willingly gives her baby up to someone she thinks is an authorized caregiver. Every successful infant security program should begin with parental education and conclude with protocols and physical measures.

Hospitals have a responsibility to provide a safe and secure environment for their new mothers and their baby. A minimally obtrusive electronic security system, clearly defined security policies, re-enforced with education and training for hospital employees, staff, and, most importantly, new moms, will go a long way toward minimizing abductions while, at the same time, providing a warm friendly environment.

About the authors:
Jeff Aldridge, CPP, is an internationally recognized healthcare security consult and the Nation's "Number One" expert on infant security. Jeff works with Fortune 500 Companies in the design and development of state-of-the-art security products for the healthcare industry. He founded Security Assessments International (SAI is online at www.saione.com) in 1994 and continues to provide services for healthcare facilities throughout the U.S. and overseas. In addition, he serves as a consultant to the National media and law enforcement on infant security issues and has provided collaborative assistance to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. Over the past 16 years Jeff has assisted over 600 healthcare facilities throughout the U.S. and abroad with their healthcare security issue. Jeff has assisted clients in England, Ireland, Australia, and Kuwait. He has been featured on ABCs 20/20, as well as "PM Magazine", a nationally syndicated television program. He was recently interviewed by NBC, CBS, and the FOX network concerning mother/baby mix-ups in hospitals. Jeff is a much sought after speaker for national and international healthcare organizations as well as a published author. Jeff testifies as an established expert witness in high profile infant abduction cases. He can be reached by email at jeff@saione.com.

Pamela Wells, RNC, BSN, MSHA, IBCLC, RLC is a Clinical Standardization and Outcomes Coordinator for Women’s and Infants’ Services for Erlanger Health System and a Technical Advisor on Infant Abduction Prevention for Security Assessments International, Inc.


Join Jeff Aldridge, CPP, and Bryan Koontz, director of safety and security for High Point Regional Health System, for our free webinar: Securing America's Hospitals, on Aug. 8, 2007 at 1 p.m. Register today.

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