Family Life Month
New state law offers safe haven for unwanted babies
a 'safety net for newborns'
By Joanne Flemming
All seven Catholic hospitals in the Green Bay Diocese serve as "safe havens" for unwanted newborns under a new state law passed in April.
According to Terry Walsh, executive director of Safe Place for Newborns in Madison, the new law allows a parent of someone acting on her/his behalf to anonymously leave an infant up to 72-hours-old with a hospital employee, law enforcement officer, or emergency medical technician. The parent of his/her designee can also call a 911 dispatcher and have the child picked up.
Walsh added that "safe haven" is the generic name given the law. Safe Place is an organization concerned with making the state aware of it. It has provided hospitals with models of policies they can adopt for carrying out the new law.
Six of the seven Catholic hospitals have policies in place. These include: Langlade Memorial Hospital in Antigo, St. Elizabeth in Appleton, St. Vincent and St. Mary's in Green Bay, Holy Family Memorial Medical Center in Manitowoc and Mercy Medical Center in Oshkosh.
According to Marge Ostrand, director of obstetrics at Door County Memorial Hospital, the hospital does not have an official policy yet, but "we are certainly aware of the law". It is waiting for an official policy to come from the ministry's corporation. Emergency personnel have been notified of the law in case a newborn is brought in.
Walsh pointed out that the new law serves as a "safety net for newborns. One abandoned baby is too many."
According to Cindy Jungwirth, Mercy Medical Center's birthplace clinician," the Affinity Health System policy offers confidential and protective shelter and medical care and any treatment to any babies up to 72 hours of age."
The "safe haven" law, she added, gives a mother who "doesn't want to or can't care for a newborn an option in lieu of abandonment, injuring or potentially even killing the baby."
Affinity's policy covers both Mercy and St. Elizabeth's. Both St. Vincent's and St. Mary's have adopted the same one, said David Schmidt, St. Mary's director of social work and pastoral care.
Julie Novak, obstetrics director at Holy Family, pointed out that "a lot of young women out there . . . are not equipped to be responsible for an infant as well as themselves. . . I don't think harming the baby is their real intent. It's just that they don't know what to do. They have the opportunity to do something different."
The parent leaving the child at the hospital has the option of filling out a health history form for him/her, said Walsh.
According to Sr. Dolores Demulling, director of mission and values at Langlade Memorial Hospital, the health form there includes three hotline numbers: Safe Place for Newborns - Crisis Number - 1-877-440-2229; Maternal Child Health Hotline - 1-800-722-2295; Depression after Delivery - 1-800-944-4773.
Walsh noted that persons answering the Safe Place crisis number will direct the caller to resources for her/his newborn near where he/she lives.