Births At Bryn Mawr Hospital Will Go Unannounced An Official Read That Kidnappers Might Be Tipped Off By Birth Notices. So A Tradition Is Ending.

Posted: March 29, 1992

Chalk up one more tradition that's fallen victim to fear of lawsuits.

From now on, Bryn Mawr Hospital won't help new parents publicize the birth of their babies. Officials there are worried that the hospital could be held legally responsible if information contained in birth announcements were used by kidnappers.

"It is a sad commentary that we now must discontinue the practice so as to avoid risk to our newborns and liability to the hospital," Ellen Mattes, Bryn

Mawr's public relations manager, said in a statement.

Lankenau Hospital, which is operated by the same corporation as Bryn Mawr, soon will follow suit. Instead of sending birth announcements to local papers, Lankenau will give new parents forms and a list of community newspapers. The rest is up to them.

"It's just a way for the hospital to protect themselves in the unlikely event that something very tragic like that (a kidnapping) happened," said Richard Wells, Lankenau's director of public relations.

"Unfortunately, we live in a world where you have to look at every risk and try to minimize each one."

Neither Mattes nor Wells was aware of any problems related to the announcements in this area.

Spokesmen for other area hospitals said they had not changed procedures recently. Several, especially those in the city of Philadelphia, said they hadn't bothered with the notices for years, if ever.

Several suburban hospitals said they send the notices to local newspapers, but only after the parents have signed release forms. They do not include street addresses.

Mattes said she recommended changing the hospital's policy after reading an article in this month's issue of Public Relations Journal that said birth announcements had been connected to some infant kidnappings. She talked about her concerns with top officials.

"Everyone strongly agreed that we should stop immediately and we did," she said.

The article says more than 100 babies have been kidnapped in the United States since 1983. John Rabun, vice president of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children in Arlington, Va., who is quoted in the article, said only four or possibly five of those abductions could be connected to birth announcements.

He recommends against releasing addresses or other information that would make it possible for kidnappers to find new babies at their homes, but does not think it is necessary to drop the announcements altogether.

Rabun said the likelihood that the announcement will lead to trouble, other than a lot of calls from salespeople, obviously is small. But, he said, this is something hospitals can do something about.

"In terms of the hospital, the standard they're held to is, is it foreseeable?" he said.

Rabun said the announcements generally serve little purpose in an urban environment where most people don't know their neighbors. He doubts many people read them.

"It's like a dinosaur," he said. "It's nice. It feels good. It's warm. It's friendly, and it's so what."

That's not what the patients at St. Mary Hospital in Langhorne thought.

Because a doctor was worried about the threat of kidnapping, St. Mary stopped sending out the announcements several years ago. But pressure from patients led the hospital to reinstate the tradition. Today, the majority of new parents sign consent forms allowing their names to be printed.

"Our parents look forward to it," said hospital spokeswoman Ele Rudolph. ''In fact, they get upset if they're not printed."

But Mattes said only about 40 percent of new mothers at Bryn Mawr wanted the birth of their babies announced.

"We have seen a dwindling number of women who have given permission to have their names released," she said.

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