Special Report: Infant Abductions

Scrubs are difficult issue for newborn unit security

Many hospitals have their newborn unit staff wear a distinctive scrubs color or other uniform so that it is easier to recognize that they are authorized to handle the infants, but the proliferation of scrubs in a hospital can create confusion for staff and patients, says Barry Mangels, CPHRM, director of risk management and compliance at Good Samaritan Hospital in Los Angeles.

The recent infant abduction in Texas shows how simply wearing scrubs into a newborn unit can help a kidnapper gain the confidence of a mother, he says, even if the hospital staff are not fooled.

The ultimate solution would be to ban scrubs from the newborn unit for anyone other than the staff there, but that is impractical, Mangels says. A step down would be to ban anyone from outside the hospital from visiting the newborn unit in scrubs. That way, the unit staff could at least know that anyone in scrubs should have hospital identification, he says.

"We have a doctor's building attached to our hospital, and so we have plenty of people coming in to the hospital in scrubs, but we still require them to have a badge," he says. "If someone comes onto our neonatal unit in scrubs and no badge, our staff would look at them very closely and challenge them to make sure they are known to the family. We also would make a point of mentioning to the family that this person is not staff even though they're wearing scrubs."

Enforce dress code strictly

The infant abduction case also highlights the need to rigidly enforce a dress code in neonatal units, says A. Kevin Troutman, JD, an attorney with the law firm of Fisher & Phillips in New Orleans who previously worked as a hospital administrator for 17 years. Dress codes and the proper use of identification badges are important in all areas of the hospital, but especially so in this unit, Troutman says.

He suggests that the apparent reluctance of the hospital staff in Texas to challenge someone in scrubs and no identification could signal a facilitywide problem with the attitude toward identification measures. "I've seen a lot of resistance from staff, complaining that the people enforcing these rules are being too picky, but this kind of incident is exactly why you have these rules," Troutman says. "When you have your own staff walking around the hospital in scrubs, maybe in the wrong color scrubs, with no badge or the badge turned over so you can't read it, all of that contributes to the kind of situation you see in this abduction incident."

If it is not uncommon to see people you know to be on staff without the proper identification, that encourages a lackadaisical attitude with other people who may or may not be on staff, he cautions. Consistently enforcing identification policies is crucial, Troutman says.

This is an area where there is no room for leniency, he says. "The patients also need to know with 100% confidence that the staff will always have identification visible," Troutman says. "They need to know that someone without a badge is someone to be questioned."


For more information on scrubs and infant abduction, contact:

  • A. Kevin Troutman, Fisher & Phillips, Suite 3710, 201 St. Charles Ave., New Orleans, LA 70170. Telephone: (504) 529-3856. E-mail: ktroutman@laborlawyers.com.