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St. Luke's is a safe place for abandoned newborns

On Jan. 5, 2000, a baby was abandoned in a Denver, Colo., grocery store -- parents' identity unknown. Jan. 10: Baby boy found alive in trash bin. Parents' identity unknown. Jan. 12: Baby girl found alive in trash can in Minneapolis. A teen-age mo...

On Jan. 5, 2000, a baby was abandoned in a Denver, Colo., grocery store -- parents' identity unknown. Jan. 10: Baby boy found alive in trash bin. Parents' identity unknown. Jan. 12: Baby girl found alive in trash can in Minneapolis. A teen-age mother is charged.
A calendar noting the dates of locations of infant abandonment is dotted with cases like these where women have left their newborn infants in garbage cans, hotel rooms and parking lots.
In an effort to curb the disturbing rise in infant abandonment, the state of Minnesota is requiring that all hospitals establish a policy where mothers can anonymously drop off a baby without facing criminal prosecution. St. Luke's Hospital has its "Safe Place for Newborns Program" up and running. "As soon as we heard about the new law, we got on the band wagon and started pulling our program together," Karla Gratton, director of nursing, said.
St. Luke's policy states that the hospital "will receive any unharmed newborn left with a hospital employee on the hospital premises. The hospital must not inquire as to the identity of the mother or call the police provided the newborn is unharmed."
Gratton and Karen Thorp-Talbot, director of emergency services, hope moms would drop off their unwanted baby at the emergency room, although they have instructed all staff and volunteers on the policy in case a baby is left at the information desk or in a waiting room. "Every employee is aware of the policy," Gratton said. "It could be the cleaning person in the lobby who comes across an abandoned infant."
Infants under 72 hours old can be dropped off at St. Luke's. If the mom stays around long enough, she will be given an ID band with a number that matches the number given the baby just in case she or the father changes their mind. "There is a way for mom to come back and say, 'This isn't what I want.'" Gratton said. "Or the father could come and say, 'The mother abandoned this infant. I want to raise it.' We do have that as part of the program, that they can take it back with them."
The mom will also be given a packet of information, including a list of resources she may wish to utilize and a questionnaire that would help the hospital provide better care for the infant. "Ideally, it would be great if they would share any information at all, and again, this is for the benefit of the infant," Gratton said. "But unfortunately, it's not always the ideal situation."
The questionnaire would have the ID number on it, no name. "We do ask some general history questions," Thorp-Talbot said. "And the only identification is the number on the band. Then we take care of the child. The child is admitted up to the birthing center, to the nursery. St. Louis County Social Services is contacted, and they take it from there."
Social Services would begin seeking a foster home for the infant, which would take two to three days.
A majority of abandoned infants are delivered by very young mothers.
"There would be a very good chance that this baby was not born in a hospital," Thorp-Talbot said. "They may be born at home, in a bathroom, a hotel room or on the street. When this type of situation occurs, it is very often young moms who have little or no support in their home environment. They have little or no prenatal care, usually. They may even be totally denying the fact that they're pregnant until they deliver."
The goal is to provide a safe place for mothers to bring in a newborn that is not wanted to prevent danger, harm or possibly eventual death to that newborn. This is not reported to law enforcement. It provides a safe place for newborns and protection for the mother. "It's non-judgmental," Gratton said. "We're here to help you."

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