PROSSER - A second chance at life for infants in danger of being abandoned is now possible at Prosser Memorial Hospital, where, as "A Safe Place for Newborns," distraught mothers and fathers can leave their babies anonymously without fear of prosecution.
While a newborn baby is a joy to most parents, for a desperate young mother it may be something to fear. This fear could be strong enough to result in the abandonment of a newborn in an unsafe place.
Prosser hospital officials say there should be no reason for any newborn to be left in a dumpster or other dangerous place. Currently, child abandonment is a felony in Washington state and can result in a maximum sentence of up to 10 years in prison and a $20,000 fine.
As of December 2002, state law provides that a desperate parent of a newborn may leave their unharmed newborn (up to 3 days old) at any hospital or staffed fire station, no questions asked, rather than abandon the newborn. The parents will then be free from fear of prosecution.
The Prosser hospital staff said young parents will be encouraged to volunteer medical history information in regards to the care of the infant. The hospital will then address immediate needs of the newborn, ensuring he or she is free of abuse and then will notify the state Department of Social and Health Services.
Though detailed statistics are hard to come by, newborn abandonment is on the rise with more than 100 babies reported abandoned every year. The law, already in effect in 37 other states, serves as a much-needed solution to the disturbing trend of abandoned babies. In Washington state, 9 to 10 newborns are abandoned every year. One out of every three of those abandoned newborns does not survive.
The "safe place" agenda was started in Minnesota in 2000 and already has been adopted in numerous other states. Joan Dedman, R.N. and Virginia Pfalzer, R.N., two retired nurses who began researching the Safe Place for Newborns program adopted by other states when an abandonment case occurred in the Seattle area, spearhead the state program. These two nurses initiated the program in Washington in 2001 after state legislation failed to gain approval.
"The intent is to save unwanted newborns from being tossed in dumpsters by offering a safe, healthy alternative and a second chance at life for the newborn. This is a win-win situation. If we can save just one newborn, it makes it all worth while," said Dedman.
With the help of state and local agencies, Dedman and Pfalzer have worked to develop Safe Place for Newborns in Washington and are working toward seeing it implemented throughout the state.
"Prosser Memorial is proud to offer this service to our community," said Susan McCoy, RNC and nurse manager for the Prosser hospital's acute care services department.
"The critical time in an infant's life is the first few days of life when they need food, warmth, protection and nurturing to survive," McCoy continued. "Our professional staff is trained to respond to crises and the hospital staff has measures in place to care for the newborn."
McCoy explained that laws like the "Newborn Safety Act" only help if the people in crisis are aware of them. She said Prosser Memorial Hospital is a facility able to help newborns in need.
According to the Safe Place for Newborns organization, Prosser Memorial Hospital is the first hospital in the Yakima Valley to be participating in their program at present. Other Eastern Washington hospitals that offer the program include Walla Walla General, Central Washington Hospital in Wenatchee, Quincy Valley Medical Center, Kittitas Valley Community Hospital in Ellensburg, Othello Community Hospital and Kadlec Medical Center in Richland.