Limit access, urge parents not to linger after discharge

Limiting access to hospital units is one strategy for reducing the risk of abductions and other threats to children, notes Dan Yaross, director of security at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus. Nationwide uses a system that provides visitors with a hotel-type card key that provides unit access after they have registered and been cleared for visiting a certain patient. (See the story on p. 112 for more on Nationwide’s system.)

The kidnapper’s success in the Pittsburgh case reveals a previously unknown weakness in the use of infant security technology, says John Rabun, ASCW, director of infant abduction response for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) in Alexandria, VA. He spent 28 years as executive vice president and CEO of NCMEC before semi-retiring in February 2012. The hospital uses the Hugs infant protection system from Stanley Solutions in Framingham, MA, which Rabun says is one of the more advanced and reliable technology options.

“The more we think that we have every angle covered, the more we’re shown that infant security is a moving target,” Rabun says. “Who would have thought this could happen in the few minutes after the tag is removed?

Sensor tags should be removed from the baby at the last possible moment during the discharge process, Rabun says. Most hospitals follow that procedure, he says, though there is no formal protocol for removal. Most families leave the unit and the hospital as soon as the discharge process is complete, but inevitably some will return to the room for forgotten belongings, make a visit to the gift shop, or otherwise delay, he says.

“After talking to a lot of staff around the country, after the Pittsburgh incident, I realized this may happen a lot more than we think. But it’s kind of non-observable to outsiders who make a lot of the security recommendations,” he says.

Because the risk of abduction and liability remains as long as the infant is on hospital property, Rabun suggests that the family be made aware that the baby is no longer a patient and no longer protected by the sensor technology.

That discussion will take some finesse, however. Urging the family to leave the hospital immediately makes sense, but you must avoid the impression that you are hustling people out the door the minute they are no longer customers, Rabun says. Instead, focus on the fact that the baby’s care is now complete. He suggests using language such as this: “We’re removing the baby’s sensor tag, so that means we won’t be able to monitor his location anymore. Now that you’re discharged, remember that no staff member will ask to take the baby away from you for any reason.”