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.
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.