A Tennessee hospital has reportedly adopted a policy of using security guards to restrain parents as employees apply antibiotic ointment on newborn babies against the parents’ wishes.
The policy is apparently designed to enforce what Chattanooga Times Free Press columnist Dave Cook has labeled an antiquated state law.
“If parents continue to refuse application of ointment, call security and administer the ointment with security at the bedside,” the policy at Erlanger Hospital in Chattanooga now states.
Tennessee has a 100-year-old law that requires medical personnel to administer an antibiotic ointment on the eyes of all newborns. Most hospitals in the state let parents opt out by signing a release form.
The hospital uses erythromycin for the ointment.
“I was literally in the middle of a contraction, and they came and got right in my face,” a mother who did not want to reveal her identity told the newspaper.
Mom Faced Stark Choice
The woman, called “Mary Jane” in the article, wanted to have a natural child birth without drugs. She accused doctors and nurses at Erlanger of bullying her into letting them put the ointment on her baby in the delivery room. The staff reportedly gave the woman a stark choice as she was in delivery.
“One option was to leave the state and go deliver in a different hospital,” Mary Jane said. “Or, we could not have our baby in the hospital. At that point, we had no other choice.”
Mary Jane claims that she and her husband told the hospital staff that they did not want the ointment, but staff administered the ointment to the baby’s eyes right after it was born even though the parents were opposed. The husband then wiped the ointment off.
“This is our child,” Mary Jane told the Free Press.
‘This Is Our Policy’
The hospital is standing by the policy.
“We have a legal obligation to protect and preserve the eyesight of all babies delivered at our facilities,” hospital spokeswoman Pat Charles told the newspaper. Charles said the law was clear and unambiguous.
The law is designed to prevent blindness in babies caused by sexually transmitted diseases (STDS). It has been on the books since 1915, but state officials cannot remember any prosecutions for its violation, Cook reported.
Mary Jane even offered to take a test for STDs in order to avoid the ointment’s application. She claims staff did not tell her about the ointment until half an hour before she gave birth.
“They said, ‘We know you don’t want this, but unfortunately, this is our policy.’”
Said Charles, “We deliver more than 5,000 babies a year. We have never had to call security. The likelihood is we never will.”
Cook, the newspaper columnist, said the policy must change.
“If Erlanger would actually escort a laboring mother from its delivery room into the streets, then it is suffering from the worst blindness of all,” he wrote.
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