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Making a Baby's "Safe Haven" Safer

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 mbitner@trinityems.com or call 978/441-9191.

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