New baby tags help thwart kidnappings, switching

The effort to prevent baby kidnapping and switched identities is focusing more and more on high-tech solutions. The latest is an umbilical cord clamp with an ID number that can be part of an elaborate security system within the hospital.

About 200 hospitals across the country have adopted the Prosec Infant Identification System, manufactured by Prosec Protection Systems in Lakewood, NJ. The system is different from many identification systems in use now because it depends on a tag attached to the baby’s umbilical cord instead of just the wrists and feet. That offers several advantages, according to Michael Lutz, CPA, president of Prosec.

First, the umbilical cord tag is hidden from view so that a potential kidnapper would not be tempted to tamper with it and or try to remove it. Secondly, the tag is clamped on the cord in such a way that it can be removed only with a special tool, unlike some wrist and ankle bands that could be cut off or forced off the appendage. The umbilical clamps also avoid the occasional problem of wristbands slipping off the babies when they lose weight after birth.

Once burned, twice shy

Many identification systems and alarms are available, but the Prosec system has been getting a lot of attention lately. One of the newest users is the University of Virginia Medical Center in Charlottesville, which was the site of a widely publicized identity mix-up that resulted in two babies being sent home with the wrong mothers three years ago. The mix-up was not discovered until July 1998, after one child lost her parents in an automobile accident.

A recently released report from the Charlottes ville police says the mix-up apparently happened when one or more of the babies’ wrist and ankle bands slipped off in the nursery. Police concluded there was no evidence of intentional switching, and the identities were exchanged while the babies were in the nursery together.

That incident prompted the medical center to investigate ways to improve its baby identification, and it is now trying the Prosec system, says spokeswoman Marguerite Beck. The hospital is phasing in various security improvements and expects the Prosec system to be adopted fully after more testing. In addition to the new clamps, the hospital has installed 24-hour surveillance cameras in labor and delivery, added unique identification badges for staff allowed to handle babies, and installed delayed egress doors in some areas.

Beck says hospital officials were attracted to the Prosec system because the umbilical cord clamps seemed to offer an extra measure of security beyond the typical wrist and ankle bands. Like many facilities, UVA formerly used a system of three identification bands — one for the baby’s wrist, one for the baby’s ankle, and one for the mother’s wrist. Now they are using two ankle bands for the baby (any type of band is less likely to slip off the foot than the wrist), the Prosec umbilical cord clamp, and a wristband for the mother.

UVA may add more protections

The umbilical clamps are used only as an extra layer of identification at UVA right now, but Beck says hospital officials expect to add electronic security measures that Prosec offers in conjunction with the clamps. The clamps can come with a transponder that is monitored by panels hidden in ceilings, making it possible to sound audible alarms, notify the nurses’ station, and lock doors and elevators when a baby is moved beyond acceptable areas.

The system can be integrated with surveillance cameras and fire alarm systems. The cost of the Prosec system varies depending on which elements are purchased, but a monitoring system for one door costs $3,995. An elevator package costs $4,950, and a bypass keypad, which shuts off the alarm to allow staff or parents to take the baby off the floor, costs $375.

Prosec reprocesses the clamps, sterilizing them and applying new identification numbers. The cost varies from $7.50 to $12 each, depending on what the hospital wants included in the kit.