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Safe Haven
A sign proclaims the Alegent Health Immanuel Medical Center in Omaha a safe haven place. (Associated Press file photo)

About two weeks after the first use of the state's safe haven law for newborns, a state health official said the process worked "quite well."

Others, however, have had questions and concerns about the lack of an established protocol in the law.

Todd Reckling, children and family services director, said Tuesday the Department of Health and Human Services would continue to assess the process, but everything seems to have ensured "Baby Boy Ana," born July 20, was safe and continues to be safe.

The baby was placed three days after he was born with the woman who identified herself as the maternal grandmother, he said, and she and the baby are living at the mother's house.

DNA test results for the parents have been provided to the court, Reckling said, but have not been made public.

The infant was dropped off at Box Butte General Hospital in Alliance hours after his birth.

Box Butte County Attorney Kathleen Hutchinson told the court this week she had concerns about how the process worked, particularly with placing the child so quickly with people who claimed to be family members.

Tests and evaluations on the parents and infant, including DNA, drug screenings, psychological and health exams, needed to be completed first, she said.

The state needed to step back and think about why the child was turned over to the state, and not rush into placement, she said. A week to 10 days to get evaluations back would not be an unreasonable amount of time, she said.

Court documents show the baby boy still had a partial umbilical cord intact when dropped off by a woman who said she was the child's aunt. Without giving hospital staff her name or the mother's name, she provided some family medical history.

Two days later, while HHS was working on placing the baby with foster parents who could adopt him, a woman contacted HHS, saying she was the biological mother. Officials met shortly after that with her and the alleged father, maternal grandparents and aunt.

A temporary order issued that day by Box Butte County Judge Charles Plantz said: "Returning or placing the child in the home of an alleged parent or relative without identifying or verifying the family's relationship is contrary to the health, safety and welfare of the child."

Court documents show the mother, whose name has not been made public, reported she had not known she was pregnant until she went into labor.

She had started birth control, but had stopped after three months. She then noticed she was gaining weight, but never larger than "one size in jeans." She said she thought the "bloating" she was experiencing was from taking the birth control pill.

She had a period after stopping the pill and another two months later, she reported.

On July 20, she started cramping and felt the urge to push. That was when she realized she was pregnant, she said. She filled a bathtub with water, climbed in and delivered the baby. She sterilized a pair of scissors, cut the umbilical cord and used bobby pins to seal the ends.

She reported she was scared and didn't know what to do next. She knew about the safe haven law, and asked her sister to take the baby to the hospital.

At the meeting with the family, Mary Mockerman, a nurse at the hospital, identified the aunt as the woman who brought the baby in. She had given the aunt her personal, unpublished cell phone number and said the call requesting the baby be returned to the mother came to that cell number.

Dr. Bruce Forney, an Alliance family practice physician, examined and confirmed the mother had recently given birth.

The baby stayed at the hospital three nights, and both of the alleged parents visited the baby. The mother stayed at the hospital and began nursing the infant.

An affidavit shows HHS arranged a plan in which the grandmother would take time off work to stay full time with the mother and baby at the mother's house. The father would be able to visit, and HHS would do home visits.

Officials said they believed the arrangement would be safe for the infant.

Both Mockerman and Dr. Timothy Narjes, with the Lincoln Medical Education Foundation family practice program, said it would be in the baby's best interest to bond with the mother and be nursed.

On July 23, judge Plantz clarified that his temporary order did not restrict where HHS could place the child, as long as it was a safe placement.

Reckling said HHS personnel followed department regulations and state laws in making decisions about the child. He emphasized every decision was made to ensure the baby was safe and his needs were met.

The department will meet with the hospital and the Nebraska Hospital Association to talk about how the process worked and any changes that might make it more effective.

Sen. John Harms of Scottsbluff said he is also interested in assessing how the process worked and whether any adjustments to the law need to be made.

"This is the first test case and we learned some things from it," he said.

Speaker Mike Flood, who introduced LB1 during a special session of the Legislature in November, said the process is worth looking at to make sure the best process possible is in place. There are competing legal and emotional interests in this type of situation, he said.

The court's role in the safe haven law is to step in and provide a check and balance, and that is what happened, he said.

"We need to look at the broader picture for all children who find themselves in this unthinkable situation," Flood said.

Reach JoAnne Young at 473-7228 or jyoung@journalstar.com.

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