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Some hospitals halting birth announcements

DES MOINES, Iowa — The new year was only hours old, but Kimberly Groninga already wanted the world to know about an early 2001 blessing — her newborn daughter.

So Groninga, 30, of Iowa City, was grateful when friends and relatives responded to the local newspaper announcement of her daughter's birth on Jan. 2.

"We did receive cards and gifts from people who would not even have known — more distant friends that maybe we wouldn't have called," she said.

But if Groninga's daughter had been born just a few weeks later, there would probably have been fewer cards. Her hospital, like many others across the country, decided to stop releasing birth announcements to protect against infant abductions.

Some Iowa hospitals require written consent to release birth data, but at least eight hospitals throughout the state, and in Arizona, Illinois and Wyoming, are not giving the information to newspapers at all.

Utah hospitals, while concerned about security matters, have not banned the release of birth announcements.

"We routinely release the information as a matter of public interest and public record," said John Dwan, spokesman for the University of Utah Hospital.

Utah's three Intermountain Health Care hospitals, Alta View, Cottonwood and LDS, release the information only after parents sign a consent form.

"We allow the moms and their families to make that decision," IHC spokesman Jess Gomez said. "The majority of parents today want that announced in the newspaper."

Iasis hospitals, such as Salt Lake Regional Medical Center, also require parental permission before releasing information to the newspaper.

Dwan and Gomez could not recall any incident stemming from a birth announcement, and both said security is a top priority. Both hospital groups monitor the labor/delivery area with security cameras and both place identification bracelets on newborns.

Hospital staffs for IHC and the U. also are prepared to respond to a "Code Pink," which is the code word for a missing baby.

"Teams respond immediately and we drill for it monthly," Gomez said.

Safety is a very compelling reason to end birth announcements, said Nancy Monson of the National Freedom of Information Coalition. But the trend of limiting information to the public concerns her.

"If we would report statistically how many people are affected by crime it would be very low. The whole country is becoming very paranoid about it," she said.

According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, 200 youngsters under age 6 were abducted in the United States from 1983 to 2000.

More than half the abductions occurred at health care facilities, spokeswoman Cathy Nahirny said, and four were linked to birth announcements.

Some hospitals stopped releasing birth information after McIntyre's group, which accredits more than 80 percent of all the nation's hospitals, said it was a good idea.

The commission, based in Oak Brook Terrace, Ill., issued strategies in April 1999 to help prevent infant abductions at the estimated 5,000 U.S. hospitals it oversees.

Suggestions from using identification bands and alert tags on infants to discontinuing birth announcements were developed with the help of hospital staff.

McIntyre said she has received many calls from newspapers complaining about hospitals that have acted on the suggestion, but said she couldn't recall that anyone else complained.

It's a trend that SwedishAmerican Hospital in Rockford, Ill., is not following. It just wasn't what most patients wanted, said nursery clinical coordinator, Julie Steller.

"The overwhelming number really still wish to have things listed in the newspaper," she said. Maintaining security, she added, needs to be balanced with meeting patients' needs.

At SwedishAmerican, hospital officials not only provide information to newspapers, but also announce births online. The hospital said many parents said they were well aware of infant safety issues.

If parents decide to release information, they must sign two consent forms, Steller said. The online announcement lists only the baby's first name, the parent's first names and the baby's birth date. A photo is included only after the mother and child are discharged.

"I'm not certain that the solution is just to close down information," she said.

University Hospitals, where Groninga's daughter was born, talked to patients before deciding to discontinue birth announcements.

"The parents were understanding and accepting. I'm not aware of any criticism from patients thus far," spokesman Tom Moore said.

As for the new mother, she isn't sure if the hospital policy is too extreme. "I certainly understand the safety issues," Groninga said, but added there might be backlash.

"The funny thing is now that it's become an issue, it might give people the idea that you could get a child that way," Groninga said.