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NEWS-SENTINEL EDITORIAL: Angola baby box increases number in Indiana to 16, helps save newborn lives

Indiana has added a Safe Haven Baby Box this week in Angola that allows people to anonymously leave newborns in hospitals and fire stations. That increases the number of baby boxes in the state to 16.

We think that’s great news. The Associated Press reported that the Steuben County Community Foundation helped pay for the box, and others donated their services for the installation.

The baby box was unveiled Monday at a Steuben County fire station just minutes from the Michigan border, which is said to be a factor in its location. Former Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder vetoed a bill last year that would have allowed baby boxes in that state.

Meanwhile, the Gary Post-Tribune reported last week that a baby box has been added at the Crown Point Fire Station, funded by an anonymous donor, increasing the number to six in Northwest Indiana. St. Catherine Hospital in East Chicago announced the installation of a baby box just weeks ago. The hospital donated $10,000 to finish the installation.

Allen County has only one baby box, in Woodburn, the home town of Safe Haven Baby Box Inc. founder Monica Kelsey.

There are three more in nearby Northwest Ohio in Hicksville, Defiance and Van Wert.

News-Sentinel.com has been a proponent of baby boxes since Kelsey spearheaded the establishment of the first one in Indiana in 2016 at the Woodburn City Fire Department, 22731 Main Street. Kelsey, a Woodburn firefighter/medic, was herself an abandoned infant.

The addition of a baby box in Angola makes it the next closest to Woodburn in Indiana. Previously, the closest was one installed earlier this year at the Warsaw Fire Station No. 2.

Baby boxes are padded, climate-controlled incubators, costing between $10,000 and $15,000, that are accessible from the outside of the fire stations or hospitals where they are installed and are equipped with silent alarms so someone can surrender their newborn anonymously with no questions asked. The alarms alert someone to respond to the baby within minutes, retrieving the infant from inside.

Why do we think they are important?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that Indiana had the highest infant mortality rate in the Midwest at 7.3% in 2017. That is also Allen County’s rate of deaths per 1,000 infants, which surpasses the national average of 5.8%.

Last week’s Post-Tribune story reported Lake County’s mortality rate is even worse at 8.5%, according to the Indiana State Department of Health. That county’s mortality rate for black children is 16.5%. Officials in the city of Lake Station in that county have announced they expect to install a baby box at their fire station soon.

Kelsey has pointed out that 60 infants have been left safely in boxes in Indiana, Ohio, and Arkansas, which has one location in Benton.

Indiana’s Safe Haven Law has allowed people to leave newborns at any hospital emergency room, police or fire station without any questioning, risk of arrest or prosecution. The problem has been the fear of being recognized by doing so and maybe facing criminal prosecution. Under the safe haven law, parents have up to 30 days to change their mind after they surrender an infant.

Kelsey says that before 2016, Indiana had 32 Safe Haven Law newborns surrendered, but there were 39 others that were abandoned.

“We were actually averaging anywhere from two to three dead babies in our state every single year,” Kelsey said in a July story by indychannel.com. “And we haven’t had one. We haven’t had a dead baby since we launched.”

The non-profit Safe Haven Baby Box organization staffs a 24-hour National Crisis hotline (1-866-99BABY1) to give women the opportunity to talk to a trained licensed professional for help in deciding what to do about their newborn. Kelsey says their organization can get as many as 5,000 calls in a 24-hour period.

“What’s so important is for these women to call us,” Kelsey told indychannel.com. “Because if they don’t make a good choice, we’re going to find another baby in a dumpster or we’re going to find another baby in a trash can. There are good choices, we always offer them, and it’s their choice to make.

“The program is working,” Kelsey told AP. “We should have been doing this a long time ago.”

News-Sentinel.com hopes Indiana responds with even more baby boxes in the near future, especially in Allen County and Northeast Indiana.

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