Hospital guards against infant abductions

Freedom Newspapers: Andy DeLisle
Amber and Justin Norman of Portales sit in the room after their first child, Teagan, was born at 12:23 a.m. Wednesday at Plains Regional Medical Center.

By Tonya Garner: CNJ Staff Writer

Elizabeth McGregor snuggled her newborn son protectively against her breast as she lay recovering from a Caesarian section at Plains Regional Medical Center.

As she gently stroked Jordan’s soft thatch of shiny black hair, her 7-year-old son, Seth, lay stretched out beside her with one pudgy arm thrown across her midsection. Overseeing his family, Shane McGregor stood sentinel-like at the foot of the bed.

The protective mother said she prefers her son to remain with her during their required hospital stay.

“I worry when he is away from me,” Elizabeth McGregor said. “Even when they have to take him to the nursery, I really don’t like it.”
Another guard is also in place to protect newborns and parents.

Immediately following a birth, nurses affix an electronic device to the infant. The device, called a transducer, not only tracks the baby’s location but also activates “an annoying beep” if the baby comes within a few feet of an exit, according to Lisa Leos, clinical coordinator of the Women’s Unit.

“The doors will also lock,” Leos said, “which requires the entire system to have to be reset.”

Leos said the electronic tracking system was chosen because it allows the mother the freedom of having the baby remain in her room and roam the hallways of the Women’s Unit.

According to Leos, the mothers are also required to dress their babies in hospital-provided paper gowns. The tiny white gowns are decorated with pink and blue bears. Leos said the gowns enable the staff to easily identify the PRMC babies.

“The gowns are eye-catching,” Leos said, “so, we know it is one of our babies instantly.” Leos said the paper attire is also disposable and handy when having to undress an infant quickly.

All mothers, fathers and infants also wear matching ID bracelets. Every time a nurse removes the baby to administer care, the bracelets are checked to ensure the information matches.

Leos said the Women’s Unit remains locked and visitors are required to know the full name of the mother they would like to visit. The nursery is also closed at all times and only accessible by medical personnel.
“Knowing he had it (electronic transducer) made me feel better,” Elizabeth McGregor said.

Shane McGregor agreed with his wife.

“I was surprised at the technology the hospital used,” Shane McGregor said. “I felt secure when they explained it to me.”

PRMC has had infant safety measures in place for the past five years, Leos said.

However, a recent Lubbock infant abduction has once again brought the issue to the forefront.

In the Lubbock case, a woman dressed in scrubs befriended a new mother at the hospital by helping her with the baby. Later the woman visited the mother at her home and abducted the newborn, police said. The baby girl was found unharmed a day later and reunited with her mother, according to published reports.

According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, 241 infants were abducted between 1983 and 2006. Fifty percent of those babies were taken from health-care facilities. Five remain missing.
PRMC officials said there have been no abductions at the hospital.

According to Leos, her staff attends annual competency training related to infant safety. One of the subjects taught is how to recognize the telltale signs of a possible abductor. “Staff awareness is key,” Leos said. “We are constantly vigilant.”

“This is all strictly precautionary,” Leos said, “but it makes the staff feel better and the patients are always impressed.”

Elizabeth McGregor is one of approximately 150 area women who give birth at Plains Regional Medical Center monthly.

“We (PRMC) are very committed to infant safety,” PRMC spokeswoman Tayloria Grant said, “but this is just part of our strict approach to security.”