Many hospitals have extended the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) confidentiality requirements to birth announcements, keeping even the traditional minor celebrity of New Year babies under wraps because of security concerns. As a result, the first babies of 2015 did not get the universal exposure and limelight that they might have historically expected. Nevertheless, some hospitals took measures to mitigate the risks and celebrated their first babies of the New Year, showering them with gifts and good wishes from the communities, as well as hospital staff members.
Acting on the advice of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), numerous healthcare and birthing facilities are re-examining the practice of releasing birth announcements to the public, leaving the responsibility of broadcasting the happy news to parents. The NCMEC warns hospitals and parents that releasing too much personal information in the public media could put the newborns at risk of identify theft or kidnapping. They caution against using full names, home addresses, or personally identifiable information in public announcements. They advise medical staff not to involve themselves in releasing potentially compromising information without understanding each family’s situation, and the possibility of those out there who would use the information to harm the family or the baby.
For hospitals that wish to keep the tradition of announcing the debut of the first New Year baby, the NCMEC recommends first obtaining parental approval to minimize the risk of hidden dangers. Furthermore, they counsel healthcare facilities that the use of hospital-provided yard signs at the family homes announcing a birth, while an understandable extension of the parents’ joy and a good marketing strategy for the facility, provides another vector of risk to the child and the family. The warning applies to online announcements as well, with recommendations to delay the news release until after discharge and to make the page password protected, so that parents can control who has access to the disclosure. Keeping the specific information under wraps helps prevent enabling potential baby snatchers to easily carry out their heinous intentions.
Hospital administrators acknowledge the potential for risk and advocate for the security and protection of their youngest patients. Community Health Systems, which operates 207 healthcare facilities nationwide, has directed its staffs to refrain from public announcements of the first baby of the year. However, others feel the measures only inhibit the celebrations of a joyful event in favor of fear mongering about “what ifs.” Wrapping babies under a heavy cloak of secrecy just is not necessary, they insist, pointing out that existing security safeguards are adequate to keep the New Year babies and families safe.
Regardless of underlying concerns, some hospitals still released at least some information about the first babies of 2015, declining to let fear win and dampen the celebration of new life in the New Year. Sarah Allison made an early but healthy appearance for Melody E. in Texas just after midnight, at 12:02 a.m., due to complications requiring a cesarean section. In celebration of its first New Year baby in many years, Methodist Hospital in San Antonio, TX presented her with a gift package of community-donated items, including gift cards, blankets, a car seat, a teddy bear, and to her mother’s amazement, a $10,000 scholarship to University of the Incarnate Word. Adam Kevin arrived in Maine at 9:52 a.m. to parents, Kimberly and John, two days past his due date, just in time to unwrap the gifts for Franklin Memorial Hospital’s first baby of 2015, including a buggy, a $25 savings account, gift certificates, toys, and clothes. In hospitals around the country, babies arrived at intervals after the midnight ball drop to claim their 15 minutes of fame, keeping the tradition of celebrating new beginnings on the first day of the year alive and well.
By Tamara Christine Van Hooser
The Journal News
National Center for Missing and Exploited Children
Image courtesy of J.K. Califf – Flickr License