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Safeguarding Our Babies


Megan Stanwix, a surgical oncology nurse, with her newborn Lilyanne, who’s wearing a security device.
Megan Stanwix, a surgical oncology nurse, with her newborn Lilyanne, who’s wearing a security device.

The nurses in obstetrics got upset during a past Code Pink. Then they got angry. An infant hadn’t really been taken off the floor; it was just a mock code.

But the exercise proved a point. There was now evidence to show that the security system in place that drew repeated complaints from staff—a limb-tag system that babies, after typically losing birth weight, kicked off, thereby tripping frequent false alarms—was inadequate. Although the process to improve that took two years from start to finish, winding its way through committees, consults and a capital equipment request, a new system that attaches to the baby’s umbilical cord at birth and is activated by a transponder was introduced to obstetrics in March.

Infant abduction is not a crime of epidemic proportions, but it is not an issue that hospitals take lightly. Hopkins follows the guidelines of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, and the last incident that occurred here was at least 25 years ago, as far as anyone can recall. But drills must take place regularly as a requirement of the Joint Commission.

“The public looks for these electronic systems when they’re choosing a hospital,” says Joan Diamond, perinatal nurse manager in Gyn/Ob. The umbilical cord tag pulsates every 13 seconds and if the computer can’t find the signal after three cycles, an alarm sounds. If you reach the door of the unit, which is accessible only by special badge, “there’s a huge alarm,” warns Diamond. The tags aren’t removed until just before families are walking out the door. It takes a special tool to take them off.

Still, nothing can replace a diligent staff. “Every single person who works in Ob takes personal responsibility for our babies,” continues Diamond. “It’s part of their training.”
They also teach parents how to maintain a safe environment once they get home. “Don’t put storks in your front yard or birth announcements in the newspaper,” cautions Diamond. “Don’t advertise that you have a newborn in your house.”

–Mary Ellen Miller



Johns Hopkins Medicine

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