A Safe Haven Baby Box was installed on the backside of Van Wert Health. The box is the eighth in the nation. (DHI Media/Kirsten Barnhart)
A Safe Haven Baby Box was installed on the backside of Van Wert Health. The box is the eighth in the nation. (DHI Media/Kirsten Barnhart)

VAN WERT – On Monday, Van Wert Health celebrated the installation of a Safe Haven Baby Box, one of only eight in the nation.

The box, designed by Monica Kelsey, who was abandoned at a hospital as a baby by her biological mother, is located on the south side of Van Wert Health near the reservoir.

“It’s about allowing a parent to have alternatives that includes life,” said Jim Pope, Van Wert Health CEO.

Pope pointed to a situation where a baby was abandoned in a box outside of the Delphos Fire Station in 2016 and said that he hopes situations like that can be avoided in the future.

“The whole concept behind the Safe Haven Baby Box is so that parents don’t have to do that,” said Pope. “They don’t have to make that choice to go outside or leave a baby outside.”

Kelsey noted that the box isn’t just for women in Van Wert County and added that the woman who dropped her baby off in Delphos drove from Indiana.

“I don’t think it’s just for the community of Van Wert; I think it’s for the communities around Van Wert,” said Kelsey. “If a mom finds themselves in this kind of situation, this is there for that mom or that dad.”

“The concept to putting a Safe Haven Baby Box here in the hospital [fits] directly into our mission to be the best community hospital,” said Pope. “Being the best community hospital doesn’t mean that you do everything but what it does mean is that you want to be the first place that people think of when they need care.”

Pope commended Teri Grothaus who had reached out to him with the idea of installing the box at the hospital.

The box itself is climate controlled and features prominent signage to show mothers in need where to put their baby. It also gives them a number to call if they need help. The box is weatherproof, as it is inside the hospital, and includes a bassinet.

When someone opens the door from the outside, an alarm is sent to an alarm company who will then call the hospital ER. A second alarm is sent out when an infant is physically placed into the box from the outside. After the baby is placed into the box, the box locks from the outside. If the ER doesn’t immediately respond to the call from the alarm company that notifies them that a baby is in the box, the company will call the Fire Department who will respond to the box.

“If mom opens the door, shuts it, and stands there and thinks for a second it’s not going to have locked at that point until that baby is in that bassinet and that second alarm trips,” said Kelsey. “Also in the ER, there is a blue light and the blue light triggers when the baby is placed inside.”

Kelsey said that typically within 30 seconds someone is able to retrieve the baby.

A baby box costs around $10,000, funded privately according to Kelsey, and includes marketing. Kelsey noted promoters of Safe Haven Baby Boxes contact area schools where they speak about the Safe Haven Law and the boxes.

The first Safe Haven Baby Box was installed in 2016. There are currently boxes located at the Woodburn City Fire Department, Coolspring Township Fire Department, Decatur Township Fire Department, Hicksville Community Memorial Hospital, Chesterton Fire Department, North Vernon Fire Department, and now Van Wert Health.

Kelsey said the box at Van Wert Health spent the last month in “test phase” before it went live, and insists the boxes are safe for use.

While the boxes in Indiana have only been utilized by three babies, through a crisis 1-866 number, Safe Haven was able to assist with 43 safe surrender handoffs in 2018 where they provided a safe environment for women to physically hand their babies to people. The organization also assisted with five adoptions.

“Twenty-eight women from the 419 area code got help last year by Safe Haven Baby Boxes, and we will continue to do this work for years to come,” said Kelsey. “The box represents ‘no shame, no blame, and no names.’ We don’t judge these women who come here; we thank these women for choosing this alternate option [over] a dumpster or a trashcan.”

In 2018 the 24-hour Safe Haven crisis hotline, 1-866-99BABY1, received 44 calls in Ohio with 28 of them being from the 419 area code. Kelsey encourages anyone who needs services from Safe Haven to call the number.

“Our focus isn’t these boxes; the box is the draw,” said Kelsey. “People want the anonymity, and they are calling us wanting to know where the closest baby box is, and we’re talking them into something better. The box is only a good option if it is the last option this mom has left.”