Columbia Regional Hospital opts to stop sending birth announcements

Monday, January 14, 2008 | 7:01 p.m. CST; updated 1:40 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

COLUMBIA — The idea seems harmless enough: new parents send birth announcements to Columbia newspapers telling the world about their special arrival.

But in the eyes of MU Health Care’s Columbia Regional Hospital, there’s always the possibility that the announcements could also pose a risk to patient security and safety. That’s why the hospital has stopped sending out birth announcements, said Jeff Hoelscher, media coordinator for MU Health Care.

Births at Columbia hospitals

The number of babies born at Columbia hospitals during 2007: Boone Hospital Center: 2,136 Columbia Regional Hospital: 1,797

“What it boils down to is that we’re always looking and trying to develop initiatives to improve issues dealing with safety and security for our patients,” Hoelscher said. “We want to minimize any risk and provide a safe environment for newborns and their families.”

Hoelscher said the hospital is not worried about losing patients because of the policy since it is a precautionary measure.

“We’re seeing more hospitals across the U.S. adopting this protocol. We agree, and we’re implementing it,” he said. “We think parents would welcome us taking this step to protect their newborns.”

Boone Hospital Center, which saw more births than Columbia Regional Hospital last year, is still deliberating what action it will take.

Steve Adams, media relations specialist for Boone Hospital, wrote in an e-mail to the Missourian that any parent who has birth information released to the media from Boone Hospital must give the hospital permission to release the information.

In general, the statistics regarding infant abductions show the crime as an infrequent event. According to data from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, since 1983, there have only been seven infants abducted by non-family members in Missouri. Records from the Columbia Police Department showed that none of those babies were from Columbia.

On a national level, just four abduction cases have been linked to published birth announcements since 1983, according to the center.

John Rabun, chief operating officer for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, said it’s a matter of parents thinking through the decision to publish an announcement.

“Particularly in our day and time, how much is too much information, and how smart is that?” Rabun said.

Some parents don’t see a birth announcement as a risk to their newborn’s welfare. Geoff Shackelford, a new Columbia parent whose child was born at Boone Hospital Center, said parents opt to send out the announcements as a special way to mark the occasion and have a keepsake for later years.

“We keep the paper so when the baby grows up, he will know what was going on the day he was born,” Shackelford said. He added that he and his wife probably would not have sought out the paper to put in the announcement if the hospital hadn’t given them the option.

Rabun said the policy is a protective device for health care providers, mothers and babies. He said the center suggests that birthing centers not even pass out newspaper birth announcement forms.

“One of the issues is civil liability for health care, and health care always gets sued,” he said.

Columbia Regional, which is MU Health Care’s birthing center, still offers a password-protected, Web nursery with infants’ photos and first name. Parents can provide the password to anyone they choose.

“We’re not giving out any information through the Web nursery, in terms of personal information,” Hoelscher said. “They can send their own birth announcements to the paper if they choose, but we’re not going to be providing the information.”

New parent Scott Lutz believes giving out information should be up to the parents.

“Parents look at it as a fun way to show people they had a kid,” Lutz said. “I think it’s a great service to have available, if the parents choose to use it.”

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