According to Massachusetts paramedic Roland Courtemanche,
46 states have a safe haven law, which allows
a parent to leave their unwanted newborn (up to a week
old in some states) with a hospital or other public safety
entity - no questions asked. But, considering how vulnerable
newborns are, Courtemanche, who is specially
trained in injury prevention, wondered: How safe is that
for the baby?
"The No. 1 cause of death for newborns born outside
the hospital is hypothermia," he says, never having forgotten
the devastating experience of arriving on scene
too late for such an infant. "No one had thought to wrap
her up in a blanket," he says, "and she died."
He took his concern up the ladder to Marianne Bitner,
his director of clinical services at Trinity EMS in Haverhill,
MA. They began to wonder whether non-medical
responders would know how to clamp an umbilical cord
to prevent the baby from bleeding out; or if they would
know how to clear a baby’s nose and mouth of fluids. She
asked around and Courtemanche was right: Personnel
at local police and fire stations hadn’t a clue about newborns.
To address the knowledge gap, they took it upon
themselves to equip their public-safety colleagues with
Safe Haven Baby Kits and a training program that would
ensure the safety of babies received under the law.
"This is where it got interesting," says Courtemanche.
"All along the path, people
started helping me." In particular,
Merrimac Valley Hospital - where
he also works as an ED paramedic
- contributed a data questionnaire,
offering parents the option
to leave a medical history; neighboring
hospitals donated receiving
blankets; and Trinity EMS
provided disposable gloves, bulb
syringes, cord clamps and an instruction sheet of swaddling
techniques that provide comfort to the baby while
preserving crucial body heat. He and Bitner also offer a
one-hour training course on the law and the proper procedures
to follow with a newborn.
Courtemanche estimates they’ve made about 30 sealed
kits, many of which have been distributed in their area of
operation. The kit also comes with a PowerPoint program
that Bitner produced to allow education and training officers to easily teach the course themselves - available
through Trinity EMS.
For information on how to assemble the Safe Haven
Baby Kit or to obtain a free copy of Trinity EMS’s Power-
Point training program by e-mail, contact Marianne Bitner
at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 978/441-9191.