Prevention is Key
Preventing infant abduction is key, and this process starts by putting proper procedures and hardware in place at healthcare facilities.
“We use a multilayered approach,” says Chicarello. This includes prior planning, physical barriers, electronic aides, and ongoing training and education of staff and parents alike. At Brigham and Women’s, security starts in the lobby where admittance to the maternity ward is gained only after signing in and using a specific elevator. Hospital personnel wear specific nursery badges, and they obtain access to the ward by key card.
The hospital also uses various forms of technology including closed circuit TV monitors, silent “panic” buttons at the nurse’s stations, and electronic wrist/ankle bracelets for the babies.
Chicarello stresses the importance of both initial training for new personnel as well as ongoing education throughout the hospital. This includes hospital-wide awareness drives and an annual Code Pink Fair. Education for parents is incorporated into a pre-natal curriculum. A big part of ongoing training is the use of monthly unscheduled Code Pink drills.
“We try to vary the scenarios to keep the staff on their toes and to expose any weaknesses,” he says. Such scenarios might include having people pose as lab personnel or pulling the fire alarm to create a diversion. “My favorite was once when we had a pizza delivered to the nurses station.” Fortunately, this didn’t work.
Dr. Broughton echoes the notion that a multifaceted approach is important. In addition to well-defined procedures in the birthing suite, the Mayo Clinic’s plan for preventing infant abduction extends to the larger children’s hospital and even to the clinic. Having a well-defined abduction plan has other positive effects as well, notes Dr. Broughton. Such programs are useful in preventing other types of theft, in aiding infection control efforts, and in locating ambulatory children who might wander or get lost.
The process requires input from several disciplines including nursing, security, and physicians. “I think pediatricians should be completely supportive of programs that provide a safety net,” says Dr. Broughton. “[Physicians] should be the leaders in the hospital setting.” One problem he has seen is that physicians sometimes don’t want to be bothered by little details like wearing a proper ID or leaving doors properly locked. Getting physicians to say, “this is important” is an essential first step.
A Disturbing Trend
Though changes in the landscape of infant abduction are difficult to discern, a few trends are notable. Encouragingly, in-hospital abductions are a smaller fraction of the total incidence, perhaps in response to better deterrence by medical facilities. As evidence of this, there was a recent 20-month period without a single abduction from a hospital setting. More disturbingly, though, the incidence of out-of-hospital abductions and the use of violence in abductions seem on the rise. Among these about 29% have involved violence to the parents or family of the infant including eight cases of homicide.