Almost 30 years ago — similar to the terrifying situation this week in Quebec — a baby was stolen from the hospital maternity ward in Red Deer.
Today, security measures to protect newborn babies from being kidnapped from the Red Deer Regional Hospital include photo identification for authorized staff and arm bands for the mother and her partner.
Alberta Health Services provided security details following the kidnapping of the newborn from the Trois-Rivieres, Que., hospital on Monday.
The incident made headlines across the country after the day-old infant was snatched by a woman posing as a nurse. An amber alert issued by police that went viral on social media helped to track down the baby unharmed within three hours.
In Red Deer, only authorized staff and the partner, or significant support person, may remove an infant from the mother’s presence and every infant wears an arm band that matches the one issued to the mother.
The arm band must be displayed and the individual identified to the satisfaction of the nursing staff prior to releasing the baby and whenever the mother and baby are separated.
Authorized personnel transport newborns in the bassinet or crib at all times.
Security cameras also monitor the unit’s entrance/exit and authorized personnel may request identification at any time.
Michael Dawe, a longtime member of the former Red Deer Regional Hospital board, clearly remembered when a baby was kidnapped from the Red Deer hospital in 1985.
“It was a tremendous wake-up call. It was at a time, in the ‘80s, when you didn’t hear a lot about things like that. We didn’t think it would happen in a place like Red Deer. But we really improved security afterwards,” Dawe said on Wednesday.
“I just can’t imagine the terror the mother felt.”
He said the woman who took the baby was found about 15 minutes later in the hospital. The baby was missing for about half an hour before it was found unharmed in a duffle bag hanging on a hook behind a bathroom door in the lower level of the hospital.
Lois Marie Petrishen, of Saskatoon, who was 28 at the time, later pleaded guilty and received a jail sentence of two years less a day and two years probation.
Dawe said Petrishen went into the mother’s hospital room to check on the baby and so the mother decided to use the pay phone in the hallway.
“Just as she started going down (the hall) she had a funny feeling about things, so she went back in the room and found both the woman and the baby were gone.”
During her sentencing hearing, Petrishen was said to have been masquerading as a visiting doctor and mingled freely with mothers on the maternity ward, wearing a blond wig, nurse’s uniform and doctor’s smock.
She decided to kidnap a baby after learning she likely wasn’t able to bear children.
Dawe said she made it to the basement parkade with the baby before realizing she forgot her keys and had to go back inside the hospital.
“My goodness, if she had taken off with that child. It was a real close call.”
He said security measures where enhanced to require identification badges with photos for staff and both visitors and staff checked more closely.
“In those days (the hospital) was quite quick to let the press know exactly what happened. They didn’t want a lot of scary stories and false rumours out there. They wanted people to know it was an isolated incident.”