Securing the Baby

Infant security programs: a safe way to differentiate your hospital

One of the greatest scenes in a hospital is that of newborns coming into the world. If you have been to a hospital recently, however, you may have noticed a change in policy in regard to the nursery.

Gone are the days of people visiting the maternity ward just to see the newborns.

Hospitals, like the rest of society, are susceptible to crime’s ever-increasing rates, and threats on various fronts continue to present challenges to healthcare institutions. Recognizing that children are our most valuable resource, healthcare facilities have been forced to increase security, changing the open-door policy they have practiced for decades.

An Open Door
Hospitals are easier targets for crime because they are open to the public 24 hours a day, seven days a week. In most cases, hospitals are community institutions available to all who who enter seeking treatment. Visitors may find some restrictions, but most employees of these facilities have been conditioned over time to allow scores of people from all walks of life to enter their institutions unchallenged, day or night.

This mindset does not consider that society’s criminal element does hold similar values as the general population. According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, as many as 10 children are abducted from hospitals by non-family members each year, making up 47 percent of infant abductions in the United States. These statistics show the need for infant security systems in healthcare facilities. Education, staff support and program quality assurance testing are vital in addressing the needs of hospital security.

Combined with advances in technology, infant abduction prevention systems are an effective solution to this problem. Unfortunately, because of the continuing threat, it’s no longer possible even to view the newborns in many facilities.

Another significant challenge in providing security for hospitals is their inherently open architectural design. Hospitals have been traditionally designed to satisfy patients and to promote an atmosphere conducive to healing. Security concerns were, by and large, not taken into consideration.

Security Nightmare
Retrofitting security in an older facility is a nightmare, not to mention unbelievably expensive. Strict adherence to other mandates has also made implementing a security system a challenge. For instance, strict enforcement of fire codes prevents hospitals from securing exits, which leaves escape routes for anyone in a hospital.

On the bright side, these municipal mandates are being replaced currently with more patient security-centric laws that will allow fire exits to be locked and alarmed by a time-delay lock and alarm system. This type of security protocol can prevent unauthorized people from entering or leaving the hospital undetected.

Infant protection systems are one of the latest technologies that provide additional protection to newborns, starting the moment of birth. Most infant protection systems use a radio frequency technology that monitors the baby’s presence within a protected area. One device is attached to the baby’s wrist or leg, and the second is attached to the mother’s wrist while still in the delivery room.

Should a mother be given an incorrect baby, an alarm will sound immediately.

The tags also emit a recurring electronic heartbeat to ensure the baby’s tag is still properly affixed; if the tag is removed improperly or tampered with, an alarm will sound. The most critical feature of this system is the predefined protected area, which interacts with the baby’s tag via the exits or elevators within this area.

Should a baby’s tag be detected at a protected exit or elevator, these systems trigger alarms, which also immediately lock the door or disable the elevator to prevent an abduction. Research has noted the importance of not separating the baby and possible abductor from the staff. With the implementation of these systems, nurses and other staff will need training on responding to alarms based on the established procedures.

The staff also should continue current practices, including line-of-sight supervision when a parent or family member is not available. They also can incorporate physical security, access control and CCTV, as well as staff and parental education in the maternity and pediatric units. All of these are pieces of a proper infant security program.

Moving Forward
Hospitals must take the threat of infant abductions seriously. Facilities that do not implement preventive measures could see a hard-earned reputation lost in an instant; what’s more, hospitals that provide less-than-reasonable security for mothers and babies face significant exposure to litigation.

Infant protection systems not only provide an additional sense of well-being, but they also serve as facility differentiators. During pregnancy, many families are now seeking hospitals that provide this additional layer of security.

Developing a Hospital Security Program
Patient-centered care is a buzzword around healthcare facilities today. In fact, you will find few facilities not practicing some definition of the term. It is this variance in definition that yields the variety of practiced concepts. In all cases and interpretations of the term patient-centered care, however, one of the most important components is patient security.

Healthcare, like every other business, is subject to competition, as consumerism has changed the traditional view of hospitals. Today’s hospitals resemble elite hotels, and many are even hiring hospitality staff to help facilitate that vision.

Hospitals have a responsibility to take reasonable action to prevent foreseeable harm to those in its care. The lack thereof can not only have considerable effects on the hospital’s revenue, it also could cost the hospital even more in litigation and lawsuits.

The first thing a hospital should do is to have a healthcare security professional conduct a threat assessment that identifies and analyzes vulnerabilities across the facility. After the initial security audit, the hospital should develop a cross-functional team to begin planning.

The team must develop a procedure to cancel an infant abduction code other than simply calling the switchboard. Proper deployment of infant protection systems requires feedback and planning from multiple departments to ensure full effectiveness. Security, information technology, plant operations, nursing management, material management and finance departments all have key roles in implementing and optimizing the system.

During implementation, the development team’s focus is on the alarm operations: alarm notification, network bandwidth requirements, and door and elevator interfaces. These components ensure that hospital staff will be alerted if an infant is moved outside of established safe perimeters. The installation process is finalized when the team reaches a consensus about these parameters; approves a design; and procures, installs and certifies a system.

The job does not end there, though. The cross-functional team will need to constantly test different parts of the abduction-prevention plan, examining the plan on all shifts and varying scenarios to scrutinize all elements of the plan.

An often overlooked aspect of the process is the education and usage of the system after its installation. All written security management programs should be reinforced with education and training of the full staff. A good start is to make employees aware of the threat of infant abduction both nationally and locally, and to provide some history around the occurrences.

Protocols and Procedures
Detailed protocols for each level of employee on the prevention of and response to infant abductions should be built around the new technology and shared with the staff. Communication to the staff through a comprehensive training program will strengthen the protocols hospital-wide. While best practices emphasize sharing the information across the entire team, each group will be counted on to do its part.

Once implemented, technological safeguards should be re-examined to keep potential abductors at bay, and layers of security to back up each point of emphasis should be developed.

Work with vendors to develop procedures that decrease the number of false alarms, and pass that information on to staff. Analyze all false alarms for recurring problems, and change staff procedures to address those concerns.

A good security partner will be able to provide preventive maintenance services around checking your equipment and systems for false alarms. Continual false alarms wear on maternity ward staff and could cause complacency that can contribute to decreased security.

Good vendors also will be able to put you in contact with other hospitals to develop infant abduction drills using each other’s staff. Security team members who act as abductors during drills will know the safeguards in place and be better able to point out security breaches.

Of all the elements that make up a hospital’s security program, parent education is probably the most important.

Knowing the history of infant abductions, and the modus operandi of the typical abductor, could provide critical information should an abduction occur. Every successful infant security program should include parental education, including protocols, technology overview and physical measure assessment information.

Hospitals have a responsibility to provide a safe and secure environment for new mothers and infants. A minimally obtrusive electronic security system with clearly defined security policies that are reinforced with education and training for hospital employees, staff and, most importantly, new moms, will go a long way toward minimizing abductions and providing a valued differentiator for your facility.

This article originally appeared in the April 2011 issue of Security Today.


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