City moves forward with Safe Haven Baby Box plan

Published 9:30 am Wednesday, November 22, 2023

At prior events, when Clark County Public Schools students have learned how city government works, it has frequently been urged and hoped that they communicate their thoughts on how to get involved.

One student, 16-year-old George Rogers Clark High School junior Makayla Lopez, took the matter to heart and contacted Winchester Mayor JoEllen Reed during the summer to pitch the idea of Safe Haven Baby Boxes being installed in the city.

At last Tuesday’s meeting of the Winchester City Commission, after taking months to study the possibility, a recommendation came forth regarding the matter.

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“My opinion, Mayor Reed, of [the] next steps is you and the city commission and the city manager approve us moving forward…and then we start looking for investment opportunities or just officially set a budget for us and find those later”, said Winchester Fire Chief Chris Whiteley.

According to its official website, “Safe Haven Baby Boxes[‘] mission is to prevent illegal abandonment of newborns by raising awareness, offering a 24-hour hotline for mothers in crisis and offering the Safe Haven Baby Boxes as a last resort option for women who want to maintain complete anonymity…The Safe Haven Baby Box takes the face-to-face interaction out of the surrender and protects the mother from being seen.”

Safe Haven Baby Boxes, which became legally allowed in Kentucky when Gov. Andy Beshear signed into law House Bill 155 in 2021, are installed at fire stations, hospitals or other locations.

When a baby is placed into a Safe Haven Baby Box, an alarm inside alerts 911, and first responders can locate the child immediately.

In February of this year, the Bowling Green Fire Department became the site of the first baby to be surrendered to a baby box in Kentucky.

Six months later, at the end of August, Reed, Whiteley, city manager Mike Flynn, and city of Winchester engineering technician Daron Stephens discussed the process involved with Safe Haven Baby Boxes staff.

Financial matters were discussed.

It’s since been determined that an initial fee of $15,000, including pre-installation and installation services, inspection training, and post-installation services, would be charged, along with a $300 annual fee and other fees not included in the initial cost, which is estimated at approximately $5,000 – $7,500.

However, support has grown, with at least one anonymous community member expressing interest in donating.

Yet, optimizing security was also of the highest priority.

“When a parent brings the child and puts it in the Safe Haven Baby Box, the second the baby is laid in that box, the parent can no longer open that box and retrieve the baby,” said Reed. “An alarm goes off, [the] Fire Department goes straight to it within seconds, takes the baby out, and transports that baby to the ER”

Three months after that August meeting, with Whiteley’s recommendation put forth, Lopez spoke to those in attendance at Tuesday’s City Commission meeting.

She stated that an infant could be delivered to a Safe Haven Baby Box instead of other actions that could prove fatal, such as being left out in the cold or placed in a trash can.

“They’ll have a safe place to [just] lay [the baby] in there, and they will be safe,” Lopez said. “[The first responders] can take [the baby] to the hospital.”

Reed, encouraged by her actions, pointed out that it was a positive example of what can be done.

“This is the thing about community. [A] 16-year-old young lady contacts us and says, ‘Let’s do something about this,’ and we’re doing something about it,” Reed said. “Hopefully, we’ll never have anyone use it, but if we save one life…it is well worth it. It’s one of those things that we want to take care of.”

She also expressed gratitude toward Lopez.

“Thanks to you and your interest in not letting those babies be tossed away,” Reed said. “We’re going to keep you [informed] as we go along, and you will be a part of this all the way.”

Following Tuesday’s discussion at the City Commissioner’s meeting, as part of the ten steps outlined in partnership with Safe Haven Baby Boxes, future actions would occur between the Winchester Fire Department, Clark Regional Medical Center and local officials.