Training key in thwarting abduction try

posted June 14th, 2010

U.S. Airways pilot Chesley Sullenberger III knew how to handle emergencies long before he saved 155 lives by safely ditching an Airbus 320 in the frigid Hudson River in January 2009.

Well-prepared by years of training and experience, “Sully” had plenty of the right stuff at exactly the right time.

The same can be said of Duke University Hospital Birthing Center’s response to an attempted infant abduction on April 19. Duke Medicine’s ongoing commitment to emergency management training, safety systems, preparation and teamwork paid off significantly, as nurses, doctors and other staff responded swiftly and appropriately to thwart the abduction attempt. The infant was not harmed in any way.

The Birthing Center regularly conducts drills to test response to a variety of scenarios, including infant abductions, as part of staff training in emergency management and to ensure that security systems function properly for the safety of patients and staff. When the abduction alarm sounded April 19, staff members had no indication that it wasn’t simply more practice. But they had been trained to respond to every alarm as if it is real, and that’s exactly what they did.

Within seconds, Peggy Fee, RN, entered the infant room indicated by the Birthing Center’s electronic security system, which uses a tamper-proof identification strap placed on each infant immediately after birth. An alarm sounds at the two Birthing Center nursing stations when the tag is removed or an infant is carried toward an exit door.

(In the photo above, Birthing Center nurse manager Jennifer Beltran, left, with nurses Lissa Petersen, Ho-Yu Pan and Peggy Fee, whose training and teamwork helped prevent an April
19 infant abduction from Duke University Hospital.)

“We never assume it’s a drill,” Fee says. “It’s always the real deal to us and we respond that way.”

Upon entering the room, Fee encountered a woman and told her that she had come to check the baby. When Fee did, she saw its ID tag had been cut (as the security system had indicated), asked the woman where the mother was, and confirmed that the woman did not have a required arm band establishing a direct connection to the baby.

Fee then told the woman the baby could not be left in the room and that she was taking it to the nursery until the mother returned. In the hall, she encountered fellow nurse Lissa Petersen, RN, alerted her to the fact that something suspicious was happening and asked her to go get charge nurse Ho-Yu Pan, RN.

Working together and following guidelines they knew well from their training, the trio quietly alerted Laura Nagelhout, RN; Beverly Walker, RN; and others to the attempted abduction. Petersen and Pan pursued the unauthorized woman as she tried to leave, trying to get her to return to the Birthing Center area pending further investigation. With assistance from a group of doctors in the 5th floor elevator lobby, the woman was detained until campus police arrived.

“We kept quiet to avoid alarming our patients,” Petersen said. “We didn’t go down the hall screaming ‘Abduction!’ No patients were aware of anything.”

 Alarms from the electronic security system are not uncommon in the Birthing Center, says Jennifer Beltran, RN, Birthing Center nurse manager, operations. Parents, who are encouraged to push their newborns in cribs around the department, often get too close to an open door, setting off the alarm. Alarms also sound during a frequent variety of announced and unannounced training drills – some involving “actors” from outside the unit -- on security and safety procedures. In every case, staff members are trained to respond by the book.

Pan calls the training-based thwarting of the abduction attempt a team-building outcome for staff in the Birthing Center. “It makes everyone have one vision, one goal, one action to ensure infant security and safety, and everyone will be working together to make it happen,” she says.

Fee says she’s never gotten more thank you’s – from hospital leadership, fellow employees and friends in the community. “We really did something pretty darn good,” she says.

“We were very proud that day,” says Petersen.

With good reason.

“Our emergency management system functioned exactly as it was supposed to function and we are extremely proud that the staff worked as a team to successfully and safely manage the situation,” says Mary Ann Fuchs, MSN, RN, chief nursing officer and vice president for patient care services, Duke university Hospital and Duke University Health System.

"Thanks to our excellent emergency management training program and systems, our staff immediately took steps to protect the safety and security of the infant and assisted in isolating the suspect until the police arrived,” said DUH president Kevin Sowers, MSN, RN, FAAN. “We’re proud of that, and of our staff's thorough understanding of the safety systems we have in place to address the potential for situations like this and their ability to execute. Everyone involved did an outstanding job.”

Across the board, emergency management training is an integral part of Duke University Health System’s commitment to ensuring patient safety and staff proficiency in handling a wide variety of incidents. The Birthing Center’s success in thwarting the abduction attempt exemplifies the importance for all employees of practice, communication and teamwork in dealing with emergencies.

Today’s drill may be tomorrow’s chance to demonstrate that DUHS has the right stuff at the right time.

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