A Bay Area hospital is taking steps to protect newborns after a mix-up involving a preemie.
Imagine you’re a young father coming to the hospital, excited to see your son. You walk in to find a woman you don’t know about to breast-feed your child. Now, Alta Bates Hospital in Berkeley is trying to prevent it from happening again.
Carlos Urrutia is one proud father. He tells me the happiest moment of his life came when his partner, Tenisha, gave birth to their son this past May.
I-Team reporter Dan Noyes asked, “What was it like when you saw your son for the first time?”
Carlos Urrutia answered, “It was actually, it was amazing.”
Little Marcello was 44 days early, so the nurses at Alta Bates in Berkeley brought him to the newborn intensive care unit or NICU.
Home video shows Urrutia talking to his son and a nurse in the NICU:
“It’s good, Marcello, you’re talking, dude. Thank God. He came out so quiet, man, I was so worried.”
Urrutia explains, “Mostly, it was breathing that they were really concerned about because they said his lungs weren’t fully developed.”
Urrutia came back to Alta Bates the morning after Marcello was born, excited to see his son. The nurse took him to NICU room four.
“And she pulls the curtain back and she’s like, ‘Mom’s right here,'” says Urrutia. “I’m like, ‘That’s not mom.’ I was like, ‘Who is this?'”
Urrutia stood there stunned to see a woman, not his partner, holding his son. He said, “The lady is holding my son, skin-to-skin, with her breast near his face. So my first reaction is, I’m like, ‘You’re breast feeding my child, he’s not even a day old, I don’t know you.'”
Urrutia told the I-Team the nurse apologized, that he felt like shouting and making a scene, but didn’t want to disturb the babies. So, he wrote on the dry-erase board in the NICU, “Make sure you check the bands! If the names aren’t Carlos – Dad, or Tenisha – Mom, he’s not yours. Don’t touch my son. Love, the Father.”
A spokesperson for Alta Bates declined to be interviewed on camera, but sent some pictures of the NICU and emails confirming a nurse handed little Marcello to the wrong mother. She blames “a misunderstanding because the surnames are similar” and tells the I-Team, because of this incident, the hospital instituted “additional communication, monitoring and auditing with all RN’s on the hospital’s identification policy.”
Candace Campbell is a University of San Francisco nursing professor with a lot of experience working in NICU’s. She tells the I-Team, “Security is a priority because we want to make sure that the right mom gets with the right baby.”
Campbell explains as soon as a baby is born, he or she gets two kinds of bands — one with an ID number that matches the mother’s wrist band, and a GPS tracking device with an alarm.
Somehow, the nurse failed to make the proper connection with Marcello and mom. Campbell believes, “In the case of, this was a newer baby that there’s a system communication breakdown.”
The I-Team wanted to find out more about Alta Bates, so we checked the file at the Department of Public Health.
Earlier this year, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services threatened to pull funding for the hospital because of “serious deficiencies” involving “nursing and surgical services”.
Nurses failed to identify that a patient was having difficulty swallowing, so he choked on food and died. In another case, a doctor injected the “wrong solution” into a cataract patient’s eye, leading to “a possible loss of vision”.
The hospital took corrective action and is now in good standing.
The I-Team also learned a baby being handed to the wrong mom does not have to be reported to the state. That’s why Carlos Urrutia felt it was necessary to tell you what happened to his family at Alta Bates.
“What I really want is basically for them to get a wakeup call to know that this isn’t OK,” says Urrutia.
Alta Bates has heard him now.