How hospitals protect newborns from would-be kidnappers

Recent high profile case puts infant safety in spotlight

After a high-profile attempted kidnapping of a newborn from a California hospital this week, hospitals in the region and across the nation reiterated that they make newborn safety a top priority and have implemented systems to protect newborns from harm.

In California, woman tries to kidnap newborn girl

On Monday morning, 48-year-old Grisel Ramirez entered a hospital in Garden Grove, Calif., wearing scrubs and posing as a nurse.

Ramirez visited a room in the maternity ward, distracted a new mother, and placed that mother's newborn girl in a tote bag. (She later informed police that she lied to her estranged husband, telling him she was pregnant, and that she now needed to produce a baby.)

However, Ramirez triggered an alarm when she attempted to leave the floor because of a tag on the baby's ankle, according to Garden Grove police Lt. Jeff Nightengale. That tag "locks the door [and] prevents anybody from leaving the floor," Nightengale explains.

A physician then halted Ramirez and returned the newborn to her mother.

How hospitals protect newborns

The security protocols that stopped Ramirez are increasingly common across the nation: Hospitals generally use ankle tags that trigger alarms and lockdowns when the newborn crosses certain perimeter lines and when the sensor loses contact with the child's skin.

"We have a very sophisticated infant security system," according to Marcia Teague of the Lutheran Medical Center in Wheat Ridge, Colo. In addition to a sensor system, she says that hospital staff members must wear badges to ensure maternity areas and visitors must be buzzed in.

In addition, many hospitals practice infant security drills.

For example, the staff at Sky Ridge Medical Center in Lone Tree, Colo., practices security drills several times per quarter. "Every department is responsible to go and stand at every exit door and every exit from the hospital to the outside," according to Marian Savitsky, the hospital's CNO. "A security system is very important but it's the whole program around safety," she adds.

Meanwhile, area hospitals tend to work together to identify individuals who may attempt a kidnapping, CBS 4 Denver reports. For example, police alerted area hospitals to suspicions about Ramirez after she approached patients at another California hospital to enquire about due dates and baby genders. Similarly, Denver-area hospitals say their security departments alert each other to suspicious individuals (CBS 4 Denver, 8/8; Takahara, Fox 31 News, 8/8; Leu, "L.A. Now," Los Angeles Times, 8/8).

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