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Official: Health dept. didn't comply with firehouse 'baby box' law

The agency was supposed to recommend standards so the incubators could be installed and operated safely, not decide whether they should be implemented


The Associated Press

FORT WAYNE, Ind. — The Indiana Department of Health has ignored a law requiring it to prepare guidelines for installing "baby boxes" where people could anonymously leave unwanted newborns, a state legislator says.

State Rep. Casey Cox, R-Fort Wayne, wrote to state Health Commissioner Jerome Adams, saying an agency report that the baby boxes shouldn't be used "subverts the legislative process and ignores the obligations required of it under Indiana law." He said the agency was supposed to recommend standards so the incubators could be installed and operated safely, not decide whether they should be implemented.

Health department spokeswoman Jennifer O'Malley says the agency will work with Cox to address his concerns.

"It's important to note that a team of child health experts from ISDH carefully studied available research on newborn safety incubators and determined that there are no standards or protocols that can ensure the safety of children placed in these devices," she wrote in an email.

Advocates say the boxes would let parents give up infants without speaking to anyone, and deter them from leaving newborns elsewhere. Opponents say the state should focus on better educating people on the state's existing Safe Haven law, which allows someone to give up an infant anonymously at emergency rooms, fire stations or police stations.

The law enables someone to give up an unwanted infant anonymously without fear of arrest or prosecution. The adult may give up custody of a baby less than 30 days old.

Monica Kelsey, a Woodburn firefighter who founded the not-for-profit group Safe Haven Baby Boxes, which produces boxes that are heated and will alert first responders when a child is placed inside, says state standards for their use are needed

"The Department of Health has to be held accountable," she said. "It's not their job to decide this wasn't good legislation."

Cox said he wants legislators to receive all the information they asked for, so they can decide whether other laws are needed, such as providing immunity to hospitals or other agencies that house the incubators. His letter urged Adams to order his agency to comply with the law.

Cox wants the department to provide guidelines within 60 days.

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