Infant Abduction at Texas Hospital: What Went Wrong?

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By Paul Lockwood, CHPP, CPP, ODS Senior Healthcare Security Consultant

 
(Paul is one of the country’s most highly respected experts in healthcare security, specializing in infant security and abduction.)

A single infant abduction is too many!

Enhanced levels of security and integrated technology help reduce the risks of infant abductions in healthcare facilities. The good news is that there has not been a single reported infant abduction from a healthcare facility by a stranger for the past 37 months. However, the bad news based on data from 1983 – 2015 indicate a total of 301 infants were reportedly abducted from U.S. hospitals, homes, and other locations by strangers. But strangers aren’t the only perpetrators when it comes to infant abductions.

In 2015, there have been at least two (2) newborn infants improperly “taken” from a hospital by a baby’s family member. In both instances, the infant’s health was put at risk and the anxiety and stress of the healthcare facility’s staff is immeasurable.

The obvious concern when an infant is abducted is totally understandable. The baby’s health and safety are of utmost concern. But there are more negative consequences than the obvious. Infant abductions create a lack of trust in the hospital’s ability to maintain a secure environment and increase their risk of liability. The resulting negative publicity creates grave concerns from the community regarding the safety and security of the overall facility. This lack of trust from the community can quickly escalate – leaving hospitals with a publicity nightmare that may eventually lead to lower patient census, decreased revenues, potential financial liability, and an eroding reputation in the community.

Infant Abduction Case #1

The most recent infant abduction case occurred in Texas in September, 2015. The infant’s mother and her sister were arrested in connection with ‘baby theft’ from a hospital in San Antonio. A woman is accused of helping the birth mother smuggle her baby out of the hospital against doctor’s orders. According to reports, the mother was suspected of using illegal drugs during her pregnancy. As a result, the child had a medical condition that required professional care.

Medical personnel reported that the infant was in danger of experiencing seizures if she did not receive adequate medical care. Child Protective Services (CPS) were contacted to ensure the infant received the best possible care and to protect her from any further child endangerment. In efforts to thwart the plans of CPS, the two women illegally removed the baby from the hospital.[1]

The child was later recovered safely at a family member’s home. But the anxiety for the hospital staff and others involved, and the potential adverse publicity for the hospital, had already begun.

Infant Abduction Case #2

The second infant abduction occurred early in 2015 in Arizona. An infant was born with drugs detected in her system. The baby required medical attention and intervention for her safety and well-being. The birth father heard that the state’s Child Protective Service (CPS) representatives were coming to the hospital to take custody of the child. Upon hearing this news, he placed the infant in a shopping bag and covered her with a blanket. He then attempted to illegally exit the hospital.

The electronic monitoring device attached to the infant’s body triggered the alarm at a hallway exit door from the nursery area. A hospital staff member responded to the alarm, however, the staff member did not question the perpetrator or ask what was in the bag that might have triggered the alarm. The father was able to continue out the door with the infant hidden in the bag.

For reasons unknown, the father was also able to transport the infant out of the hospital through a set of “alarmed” doors as well. The child was in danger for obvious reasons but the father was able to remove her from the hospital undetected.

Police later arrested the father and placed the baby safely into state custody.[2]

Mitigating Risk of Infant Abduction

Risks to the infant, anxiety for family members, negative publicity, and financial liability for the hospital are obvious reasons to mitigate risks of infant abduction. The cases highlighted above emphasize the critical importance for ODS security team members to continually be on the alert, and maintain awareness and vigilance, for suspicious and unusual situations. Nothing can ever be taken for granted when it comes to safety and security in the healthcare environment.

Contrary to the complacency and naivety of some individuals, an infant electronic monitoring system does not ensure babies cannot be illegally and secretly taken from a hospital.

[1] Source: KSAT News. Accessed September 29, 2015. Available at http://www.ksat.com/news/2nd-sister-arrested-in-baby-theft-from-hospital.
[2] Source: KFOR News. Accessed September 29, 2015. Available at http://kfor.com/2015/03/12/father-allegedly-tries-to-smuggle-newborn-from-hospital-in-plastic-bag/.
[3] Contact Paul Lockwood at plockwood@ods-security.com.