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ID badges are key, staff must question everyone
No matter what other valid, necessary precautions you have in place, the effort to thwart infant abduction all centers on limiting access by people who shouldn't be on the newborn unit. Limiting access means checking identification and drilling for emergencies can be the most important prevention steps, say Barry Mangels, CPHRM, director of risk management and compliance at Good Samaritan Hospital in Los Angeles, and A. Kevin Troutman, JD, an attorney with the law firm of Fisher & Phillips LLP in New Orleans, who has worked on prevention efforts with hospitals.
"For years, I've seen a lackadaisical attitude where staff members say, 'Well, we all know each other, so there's no need to worry about name badges,'" Troutman says. "So people might wear their badge under a coat, inside their shirt, or they even wear it backward because they don't like people to see the picture. Cracking down on that behavior could make great strides toward stopping infant abductions."
Parents must be educated about requiring proper identification before handing over an infant, but Mangels notes that checking identification really is the staff's responsibility. Like many infant abductions, the latest incident in Texas might have been prevented if staff had challenged someone wearing scrubs without displaying identification — or anyone without a clear reason to be on the unit.
Troutman notes that the abductor in Lubbock wore a large overcoat that may have helped her hide the infant and provide an excuse for her identification not being visible.
"Hospitals just have to be very firm on this issue of identification being visible, especially on the unit with newborn infants," he says. "It can't ever be OK for someone to walk around with a heavy coat on that hides their badge, and it can't ever be OK for other staff to see that and not say anything."
Code Pink drills are vital
The hospital will be scrutinized to determine if it complied with the standard measures for preventing infant abduction, Mangels says.
"I'm sure the Joint Commission is looking right now at whether they had proper training for the staff and whether they carried out Code Pink drills, as well as other issues like what kind of physical security they had in place," Mangels says.
Infant abduction drills, often known as "Code Pink" drills, are used to practice how staff would respond to an infant abduction. At Good Samaritan Hospital, the staff periodically runs a Code Pink drill by giving an infant-sized doll to someone posing as the kidnapper. The facility's public address system announces the Code Pink.
"When they hear that alarm, staff have designated areas where they are to go and watch for the infant. That includes every exit from the building, and no one is allowed to leave without making sure they do not have the child," Mangels says. "Our staff take those duties very seriously. If this abductor was able to just leave the hospital once the alarm sounded, I have to wonder if the staff were really practicing this scenario and knew how to respond."