New baby box at St. Catherine Hospital in East Chicago is a ‘beacon of light’ - October 16, 2019

Courtesy of Chicago Tribune • Oct 16, 2019

By Meredith Colias-Pete

St. Catherine Hospital’s new baby box is a “beacon of light” for new mothers with nowhere else to turn, Neonatal Nurse Clinician Mary Puntillo said.

The East Chicago hospital unveiled its new baby box on Wednesday where an infant can be left without fear of prosecution.

It is the first for the Community Healthcare System, located on the hospital’s west wall — where the child will be left directly in the labor and delivery department.

Three zip codes — in Gary, East Chicago, and Hammond — are near the top of the state’s highest infant mortality rates, Puntillo said. East Chicago has the highest infant mortality rates, according to state officials.

“This is a beacon of light for someone who is in despair, who is in a very dark point in their lives without any hope,” Puntillo said. “When they need someone, they know they can come here.”
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There are now five baby boxes in Northwest Indiana — with two in Michigan City and others in Hammond and Chesterton. Methodist Hospitals in Gary is planning to add a baby box in January, Director of Nursing for Women’s Services Christine Murphy said through a hospital spokeswoman.

Indiana’s Safe Haven Law allows people to take newborn babies to any hospital emergency room, police station or fire station without any questions asked and no risk of arrest or prosecution. However, some women are still afraid to take babies to these locations.

When the Safe Haven Baby Box is opened and a baby placed inside, a silent alarm alerts staff to immediately go to the site and retrieve the infant, officials said.

At the unveiling, Leo Correa, president and CEO of St. Catherine Hospital, welcomed attendees, and Deacon Michael Halas, of the hospital’s pastoral care, blessed the baby box. Dozens, mostly hospital employees, were there for the dedication.

The cost is about $15,000, officials said. St. Catherine’s donated $10,000 to finish the installation, according to a release. The Pangere Corporation, Hyre Electric, Precision Wall Systems and Lakeshore Landscaping donated labor and materials.

A healthy newborn baby girl was placed inside the Safe Haven Baby Box at Franciscan Health Hospital in Hammond last month, less than 30 days after that box became operational, according to the hospital.

She was the third infant placed in a Safe Haven Baby Box in Indiana in less than two years, Franciscan spokesman Robert Blaszkiewicz said previously.

Monica Kelsey, founder of Safe Haven Baby Boxes, said she started it after learning in her late 30s of her own personal story. At 17, her birth mother was raped, beaten and left on the side of the road.

Two hours after she was born, Kelsey was abandoned. She was later adopted by a loving family.

“Every child who is placed in this box will be loved and cared for for the rest of their lives,” she said.

Since 2016, 59 babies have been found in 16 other boxes in Indiana, Ohio and Arkansas, she said.

Southern Indiana police said an infant found on Tuesday, abandoned inside of a bag left near in Seymour, Ind., roadway, is alive and healthy.

Seymour police say a person walking their dog found the child Tuesday afternoon along a fence row about 20 yards (18 meters) from a road on Seymour’s southeast side. It was less than a mile from a fire station with a baby box, according to media reports.

The Safe Haven hotline is available at 1-866-992-2291.

The Associated Press contributed.