Safe Haven Act at Penn Highlands Healthcare

On June 6, a 9-1-1 call was made at 10 p.m. when a man and his daughters heard crying near their home in Georgia. The Forsyth County Sheriff’s office investigated and found a newborn in a plastic bag who was abandoned in the woods.

The baby girl was saved and is doing well, according to reports. Named India by authorities, she is in foster care. Little is known about the mother at this time.

India’s story had a happy ending, but it almost didn’t. This route never needs to be an option for anyone. Every state in the nation has a Safe Haven Act, including Pennsylvania.

The government and hospitals across the state recognized that in 2002 that a baby is a big responsibility and some moms are not ready for a life-long commitment of time, attention and money.

The Safe Haven Act, Act 201 of 2002, also known as The Newborn Protection Act, took effect in February 2003. It governs laws relating to the abandonment of newborns in Pennsylvania. “This law gives parents a safe, legal and confidential alternative to abandoning their babies,” Kim Cicon, MS, RN, CEN, Emergency Department Service Line Director/Trauma Program Manager for Penn Highlands Healthcare, said.

Each of the Penn Highlands Healthcare hospitals has been providing a safe drop off for newborns whose mothers just can’t take on the responsibility.

Babies up to age 28 days can be dropped off by the mother without fear of criminal prosecution as long as the baby has not been harmed or abused. A baby can be left with any hospital staff member or left in a bassinet specifically for this intent located in the hospital.

And “it doesn’t necessarily have to be the parent who brings the infant in,” Cicon said. “They may choose to have someone else bring in the baby, such as a friend, family member or any other responsible adult.”

Each hospital has a bassinet located in an area near the Emergency Departments or switchboard. They are close enough to be monitored but still offer the mothers privacy to stay anonymous. PH DuBois has a buzzer to ring to alert the ED staff.

“No information from the parents is needed, and no questions will be asked,” Cicon said. “However, the person leaving the baby can provide family medical information if they choose, or they can take a health history form to fill out later and mail in anonymously.” There are forms are located in the bassinets.

If a parent wishes to stay to hand over the baby in person, she is welcome to talk to someone about her family history and perhaps give a blood sample for testing without giving her name.

At the hospital, the baby will be examined by a doctor and provided with any needed medical care. The baby will be taken care of by the hospital while the county’s Children and Youth Services is contacted to take custody of the baby.

If a baby is left with staff at hospital campuses without emergency rooms, such as PH DuBois East or PH Elk Ridgway, the staff will call 9-1-1 to transport the baby to the Emergency Departments for evaluation.

“This option benefits everyone,” Cicon said. “It’s peace of mind for the mothers, especially since nothing is held against them. It also benefits the community.”

To speak to someone about the Safe Haven program confidentially, call PA Families Inc., a non-profit state organization, at 1-866-921-SAFE (7233) or the National Safe Haven Alliance hotline at 1-888-510-BABY (2229).