Mother of newborn abandoned in hospital parking lot not found

Whoever chose to abandon a newborn baby almost two weeks ago in a parking structure outside Scripps Hospital could have legally given the baby to the hospital with no questions asked under a law enacted in 2001.

The baby boy was found at about 2:45 p.m. on Feb. 19 by a nurse who was getting in her car at the hospital’s parking structure on Genessee Avenue. The nurse heard the baby crying and found him wrapped in a blanket underneath her car. She immediately took the newborn to the hospital’s emergency room for care.

Capt. Guy Swanger of the San Diego Police Department said the baby had a temperature of 94 degrees when he reached the emergency room, but he was quickly upgraded to good condition.

“We are guessing that he was between eight and 12 hours old (when he was found) based on the doctors’ estimates of how old he was,” Swanger said. “He had a low temperature. Being a newborn outside for an extended period of time, that is understandable. He was cold, but he has since been upgraded.”

Lisa Ohmstede of Scripps Hospital said the child has since been released from the hospital and put in the care of the county’s Child Support Services.

Swanger said police believe the child was born some time between 3 and 7 a.m. on Feb. 19 and was abandoned shortly thereafter. He said whoever left the baby could face charges of child abandonment, but that police have so far received no information about the baby’s parents.

Under the Safe Surrender Baby Law, enacted in California on Jan. 1, 2001, a parent or legal guardian can give their baby to a hospital or fire department within 72 hours of birth without facing child abandonment charges. The law states that, as long as the child has not been abused, there will be no questions asked and the mother, if she chooses to provide identification, can have that information kept confidential.

Hospital personnel give the parent a medical information questionaire designed to gather family medical history, which would be useful in caring for the child. It is up to the parent if they wish to give any additional information concerning the baby.

The law is intended to prevent dangerous abandonment situations such as the one that occurred at Scripps Hospital. It was signed into law by former Gov. Gray Davis to put an end to the tragic stories of babies being found in trash cans and public restrooms. Often, mothers who abandon their newborns are under severe emotional distress and may have hidden their pregnancies for fear of what would happen if their families found out.

“The law is very specific. Within 72 hours, you may surrender a newborn and the emergency room is the place that has been designated,” Swanger said, “not in the parking lot. The law is very clear.”

The law also provides for a so-called “cooling off” period. A mother who surrenders her baby has 14 days to change her mind and can legally reclaim her baby during that time period. When the mother turns the baby over to hospital staff, both baby and mother are given matching bracelets that help connect them if the parent wants the baby back. Swanger said the mother of the child found at Scripps had likely forfeited that right by abandoning the child.

“That would be up to Support Services to go to court with her over that issue,” he said. “We would still be investigating the crime.”

Ohmstede said the Scripps emergency room has not had a mother surrender her baby under the Safe Surrender law since it was enacted. The hospital also has not seen an illegal abandonment such as the one Feb. 19 in some time.

“This is really rare,” she said. “I’ve been with the hospital four years, and this is the first time we’ve seen a baby left here.”