Groups approach council about baby boxes

A decision by city officials that a Safe Haven baby box would not be appropriate for installation in a city fire station was debated again at Tuesday’s Columbus City Council meeting.

Walter Peycha, Safe Haven Baby Boxes Inc. president, said he was approaching the council to initiate a dialogue.

“Abandonment has serious consequences for the baby and the parent,” Peycha said. “The impact to the community is the most important thing.”

Peycha’s organization, based in Woodburn, had been working with Columbus North High School senior Hunter Wart, who was in the process of raising $10,000 to fund installation of a Safe Haven baby box at Fire Station 3, 80 S. Gladstone Ave., as part of his senior project.

[sc:text-divider text-divider-title=”Story continues below gallery” ]

Safe Haven baby boxes allow an individual to surrender a newborn baby in a box that opens from the station’s exterior wall, which automatically locks and alerts firefighters that a newborn baby is present.

In an email to Wart on Jan. 3, Mary Ferdon, the city’s executive director of administration and community development, explained to Wart that the city was declining the offer of the baby box.

“After careful consideration and research by city staff, the Columbus Fire Department administration and staff and discussion with medical providers, the city does not believe this is the optimal way of dealing with the surrender of infants,” Ferdon wrote.

City officials said the fire department was recently recognized as a nationally-recognized Safe Haven facility by the National Safe Haven Alliance, and the city’s fire stations were already designated as locations where babies could be surrendered under Indiana’s Safe Haven law.

Under Indiana’s Safe Haven law passed in 2001, individuals can surrender an infant without risk of arrest or prosecution to a hospital or an establishment with emergency services such as a fire or police station.

The designation means that mothers can drop off their infants who must be 30 days old or younger when fire department personnel is present at any of the department’s six fire stations.

Speaking to councilmen Tuesday night, Fire Chief Mike Compton said firefighters with emergency medical training would be able to immediately evaluate a baby’s condition if it were surrendered at a city fire station under the state’s Safe Haven law.

No one has surrendered a baby at a Safe Place designated site in Columbus or since the Save Haven law was implemented, city officials said.

In Ferdon’s response to Wart, she said one of the city’s highest priorities is to provide immediate medical attention, potentially lifesaving care, to a surrendered infant, and to the mother, who might also be in need of medical care and emotional support.

“The Safe Haven Baby Box surrender does not allow us the opportunity to address those issues as the parent may leave the area before our medically-trained personnel would have an opportunity to conduct a rapid (health) assessment,” Ferdon wrote.

If an infant was placed in a Safe Haven baby box while firefighters were out on an emergency call, the city could not guarantee the immediate assessment that needs to occur for the surrendered infant, Ferdon wrote in her email to Wart.

Compton said Tuesday that firefighters could be out at a fire scene from three to four hours at a time.

Sherry Foushee, representing National Safe Haven Alliance, said the group’s work has saved 3,661 babies during the past 20 years.

Columbus resident Ken Fudge also questioned the city’s decision, but Mayor Jim Lienhoop said the matter wasn’t something being considered by the council. Council members did not respond to Fudge during the meeting.

“This is a council meeting and this is not an issue for the council to decide,” Lienhoop said. “If the discussion wants to continue (after the meeting), there’s nothing wrong with that.”

After the meeting, Peycha said the six Safe Haven baby boxes in Indiana have been used and have a good track record.

“It serves as a beacon, a little bit of hope,” Peycha said.

Peycha said he remains hopeful Columbus will have a baby box installed in the future.

“I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t think that would happen,” Peycha said. “I’m hopeful there will be a good solution.”

Fudge said he thought the baby box should have been installed since there was no cost to the city.

“We’re supposed to be a forward-thinking community,” Fudge said. “If that box saves one baby, it’s worth every single minute of it.”