Something didn’t seem quite right. The person in the hooded sweatshirt standing near the entrance looked suspicious to respiratory therapist Betty Collins as she entered the newborn nursery on the evening of Jan. 12, 2006, during her shift at Ouachita County Medical Center in Camden, Ark. Perhaps this is why she shielded her fingers as she punched in the combination to the lock on the nursery door before entering to check on a baby inside.
Leaving minutes later, her work done, Collins’ suspicions were confirmed when Nikenya Washington, 18, shoved her way into the nursery yelling, “Move out my way, I’ll shoot you b—-!”
Collins and the other nurse in the unit bravely wrestled with the would-be abductor. A Code Pink was called.
It is notable that January’s Ouachita Hospital case is unique as the first reported case of physical violence during an in-hospital abduction.
This frightening episode is one example of the phenomenon of infant abduction, and according to Cathy Nahirny of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) it is the first reported case in 2006.
Infant abduction is defined as the act of kidnapping an infant less than six months of age by a non-family member. Code Pink is the almost universally adopted code word signaling that an abduction is taking place. Though infrequent by comparison to other types of kidnapping or exploitation of children, infant abduction—like many pediatric situations—is quite dramatic.
This crime is of particular concern to pediatric hospitalists because about half of these events occur within the hospital setting. It plays on the fears of expectant parents and communities, and a successful abduction can be catastrophic for a hospital’s image and reputation. Preventing infant abduction and maintaining preparedness for Code Pink situations represents an ongoing challenge for the approximately 3,500 hospitals where about 4 million American babies are born each year.
Small Number, Large Impact
According to Daniel Broughton, MD, infant abduction is a small subset of a much larger problem. As the director of the Child Abuse Program at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., and co-author of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Clinical Report on the pediatrician’s role in the prevention of missing children, he is an expert on the subject.
There are an estimated 1-2 million runaways and as many as 200,000 abductions by family members in the United States each year. By contrast, since 1983 when the NCMEC began to collect information on reports of infant abduction, there have been a total of 235 recorded infant kidnappings by non-family members. Nevertheless, “from the standpoint of impact both on families and the hospitals, it is huge,” says Dr. Broughton of infant abduction.
Bob Chicarello, the interim head of security at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, agrees.
“You want to do everything possible to prevent [an infant abduction] because it could really shake an institution to its knees,” he says.
In addition, the Joint Commission on the Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (JCAHO) considers infant abduction such a safety priority that it was made a reportable “Sentinel Event” in 1998. Of the reported 235 reported cases 117 abductions—or 50%—have occurred in the hospital setting. Most children taken from the hospital—57%—are taken from their mother’s room. Roughly 15% each are taken from the newborn nursery, other pediatric wards, or from other parts of the hospital grounds.