Precautions useful when infant abducted

Trained reactions worked well

When Healthcare Risk Management called St. Edward Mercy Medical Center in Fort Smith, AR, to ask risk manager Eileen Kradel, RN, JD, about her program for preventing and responding to infant abductions, she was shocked by the timing of the call. A baby had been kidnapped from the hospital only 30 minutes earlier, and Kradel still was out of breath from running around during the emergency.

Kradel tells HRM her staff responded beautifully to the crisis, and she thinks the outcome proves her program works. While it may not always be possible to stop an infant abduction before it happens, Kradel's experience shows that a thorough program can help you identify the abductor and get the baby back as soon as possible.

Housekeeper spots snatcher

This is what she says happened on May 19 (some details are unavailable for confidentiality reasons):

A 7-month-old child had been brought into the emergency department the day earlier with a drug ingestion. When lab results showed the child had ingested amphetamines, the local child protective services department was called. The parents were informed the child would be taken into custody while local authorities investigated how the drug ingestion occurred.

The next morning, May 19, the parents and a grandmother apparently came to the hospital. From what Kradel can determine at this point, it appears the mother and grandmother waited at the front entrance of the hospital while the father went to the nursery and took the child.

A housekeeper saw a man take the child and rush out of the nursery. Having been briefed on infant abductions during an inservice, she knew this was irregular, and she immediately went to a nurse and reported what she saw. The nurse, following hospital policy, immediately called the hospital operator to report a "Code 7," the hospital's code for an infant abduction.

The hospital operator broadcast "Code 7" on the public address system, and while she was doing that, another operator called hospital security and the local police department to notify them. The Code 7 broadcast signaled staff to spring into action. Staff hurried to nearly all the hospital's exits and watched for anyone carrying an infant.

An employee at the front entrance saw the father rush outside with the infant and get into a car that had pulled up quickly. The description of the occupants matched the parents. The license plate number was recorded, and the police quickly determined the vehicle belonged to the baby's parents. A police officer arrived on the scene almost immediately after the parents left with the baby.

Staff instructed to stop anyone with infant

Once it was determined the parents took the infant, the hospital turned the matter over to the police and let them decide how to take custody of the child. Kradel says she is pleased with how quickly the staff covered the exits.

"I'm really kind of gleeful about their response because we had added some new doorways to cover recently, and they all covered them very well," Kradel says. "When the Code 7 is called, every department is assigned to cover certain exits and stairwells near their work area. Someone - it could be a nurse or a clerk, anyone - immediately goes to that exit."

The policy calls for staff to watch for anyone carrying an infant, regardless of the appearance, and to call for help if they see one. Staff are allowed to confront the person and ask him or her to wait for an identification check before leaving, but they are told to use judgment and not confront anyone who appears threatening. The main goal is for the employee to see the person taking the infant and make a report; they are instructed not to take aggressive physical action against anyone.

"The whole thing didn't take very long, and that's an important lesson," Kradel says. "The baby was gone in a matter of just a few minutes, so if you don't have a plan that gets people in position very quickly, you miss your chance to stop the abduction."