Infant abductions from U.S. hospitals are extremely rare — only 128 such cases since 1983 out of about 112 million babies born since then, according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
Nurses on obstetrics units, NICUs and pediatric floors are among those who aim to keep it that way. They work with hospital security teams and device makers to update their equipment and make sure staff knows what to do, through periodic drills, should an abductor target their unit.
Devices have been upgraded in recent years. Some now not only set off an alarm — an event often termed “code pink” — but also can pinpoint where the infant is in the hospital and trigger lockdowns on elevators and doors throughout the facility.Andrea McGowan, RN
At Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx, N.Y., infants wear numbered tags that are checked every shift to make sure all babies are accounted for, said Andrea McGowan, RN-C, MSN, NE-BC, administrative nurse manager of labor and delivery. They use the Hugs system by Stanley Healthcare Solutions, which involves strapping a hypoallergenic, waterproof radio frequency identification tag about the size of a quarter around an infant’s ankle. During an abduction attempt, the baby’s position can be tracked on a computer screen, which shows maps of each floor.
Nurses attach the tags, which weigh a third of an ounce, at birth and they stay on until discharge when are sterilized and reused.
If someone tries to cut the tag off, alarms alert the staff. Even if someone tries to block the radio frequency signals, such as by covering the device with foil, the Hugs system will alert the staff because it doesn’t detect a regular signal.
“There are quite a lot of smarts built into the tag,” said Steve Elder, spokesman for Stanley Healthcare Solutions. “They sense when an infant is getting close to an open exit. The tags also send out messages every 10 seconds to the system. … If the system doesn’t see those messages for a little while, it will generate an alarm.”Susan LaMonica, RN
A new Hugs component called “Kisses” provides electronic confirmation that the right mother and child are matched. If the wrong person picks the baby up, an alarm will go off.
MyChild Infant Protection System offers a tag for the umbilical cord as well as the ankle or wrist, so putting the tag on coincides with clamping the cord, said Diane Hosson, vice president of marketing for McRoberts Security Technologies. That also keeps the tag off the baby’s skin if that is an issue for a nurse or parent, she said.
The company recently upgraded some features. “One of the things nurses asked us for was integrated video,” so the company came out with MyChild5 last year, Hosson said. Now if a hospital’s infant security alarm system is tied into their closed circuit TV system and an alarm goes off, nurses can see the exits on live video.
MyChild automates tag management so nurses don’t have to manually register tags and when tags aren’t being used they are automatically deleted from the system.Alyson Ornstein, RN
Susan LaMonica, RN, MSN, MBA, CNA, network director of nursing for pediatrics at Jacobi Medical Center in the Bronx, said Jacobi put in a MyChild system when it upgraded one of their buildings a few years ago.
Using the tags is standard procedure at Jacobi and North Central Bronx Hospital in the newborn nursery, the neonatal ICU and occasionally on the PICU and inpatient pediatric unit, she said. Tags can be a problem in the NICU because the babies are so small. They get one when they move from isolette to bassinet.
Parents are educated about the tag and instructed not to take it off, she said. “The response has been very positive,” she said.
Alyson Ornstein, RN, BSN, nurse manager for women’s and children’s services at South Nassau Communities Hospital, upgraded their security system to MyChild about five years ago. “In our old unit it was not computerized and there was no map of where the baby was,” Ornstein said. “Now I’m able to find a transponder even if it’s not active on a baby,” such as if the tag had left the unit to be cleaned and had not been placed in transport mode.
Ornstein said the staff has a drill each quarter on what to do if an alarm goes off. Sometimes the “abductor” is familiar to the staff, sometimes not because “an abductor can be anyone,” she said. Even so, staff are taught to recognize a stereotype: typically female, between 35 and 45, generally obese with self-esteem issues.
“We mimic it at different times including fire drills,” when a parallel disturbance is going on, she said. Because abductions are rare, most nurses don’t have experience with security procedures outside drills and false alarms, which occur when a baby’s tag gets too close to an exit, or if the tag falls off because it was improperly secured, the baby kicked it off or the baby lost weight and it fell off. But when alarms go off, all activity stops until the tag and baby are located.