Baby Box dominates Troy Council meeting

TROY — The end of Monday evening’s Troy City Council meeting was flush with public comments on the newly installed Safe Haven Baby Box at Troy Fire Department Station No. 11.

The baby box is a climate-controlled infant crib, located inside the vestibule of Troy’s new fire station. If a new mother finds herself in the situation of being unable to care for her newborn, the Safe Haven Baby Box is a safe and secure alternative to abandoning a child “on the street.”

Once a newborn is placed in the box, signals are sent to alert Troy Fire and Miami County 911 dispatchers so the infant can be immediately cared for. The process is completely confidential. The box is available 24/7.

“I want to make it very clear that this item is under investigation currently by the Department of Health. Council has been advised not to get into any back-and-forth discussions on the topic, but you are still free to say what you wish,” said Council President William Lutz at the opening of the public comment section.

Christopher Hicks, a self-described conservative, pro-life activist from Cincinnati, filed a complaint with the Ohio Department of Health shortly after the installation stating that the baby box is not on an exterior wall, which he alleges is in violation of Ohio Revised Code and Ohio Administrative Code.

“The point of an external wall, I suppose, is so that woman never has to enter a building to surrender a baby. That the act of going through a door into the building is an inhibitor to a woman in crisis surrendering a baby,” said Hicks at Monday’s council meeting.

Throughout his comments, Hicks spoke on the problems surrounding baby boxes in the way they are implemented now and noted the Troy box doesn’t provide much anonymity. He addressed the stigmatization surrounding giving your baby up at a box and why there needs to be more education about the options a mother has.

“I want it to be de-stigmatized that she comes forward, gets proper prenatal care, has a proper medical delivery, and learns about all her options,” said Hicks.

He then advocated for other arrangements like open adoption, where the mother and child are known to each other after adoption, or custody arrangements — arranging temporary custody while the mother works towards creating a stable environment for the child. These options, he contends, need to be communicated to the new mothers before they make “an irrevocable decision to put their baby in a box.”

He also took time to criticize Safe Haven, the company that provides the baby boxes.

“{They] are the sole provider of baby boxes. I think when legislature introduced baby boxes, they thought some manufacturer would make it and they would sell it. Not that the company would effectively become a marketing company,” said Hicks.

“They have now monetized Safe Haven into a $10,000 a pop proposition and have the goal of putting baby boxes in every firehouse and every police station to make millions of dollars from Ohio,” alleged Hicks.

Hicks also alleged other specific problems with the Troy baby box, such as the lack of voluntary health forms, the lack of a pen to fill out the form, and the scope of information asked about the surrendered baby. This would mean, he stated, that a mother would have to commit to the decision to give up her baby and open the box before having access to the information in the box. He also said a camera at the fire station does not provide the anonymity the Ohio Revised Code requires.

Overall, in his 26 minutes of holding the floor, Hicks claimed to be in support of the baby boxes while advocating for more education surrounding and other options a new mother has, for the boxes to be placed at hospitals where the babies could receive immediate care, and for the regulatory code surrounding baby boxes to be upheld.

Hicks comments were met with an enthusiastic response from other members of the public who attended Monday’s meeting.

“I would much rather have a baby placed in a box than the trash can, or (worse) yet, murdered,” said Brad Boehringer, of Troy. “If there was such a problem when this was installed, why did the ODH (Ohio Department of Health) not come forward then?”

Two local pastors also spoke in favor of the baby boxes.

“What I understand is that 22,000 babies are surrendered in hospitals every year. But we also know that there are babies that are not surrendered. And pre-Safe Haven they were discarded in dumpster years. And what we do understand is that from the point of Safe Haven forward, three to four times more babies have been saved than have been discarded,” said lead pastor of True Life Community Church Chris Daum.

“They need to be educated, sure. But in desperate times people do desperate things. We must give them the ability to make that choice in that desperate moment. And we need to do our due diligence to make sure that everything is ready to respond,” he continued.

The public comments following Hicks’ remarks were overwhelmingly in favor of the baby box. While all agreed for the need of more education on the issue, all were in support of keeping the box.

“So, I think, as a community, we do need to do better at making sure we move forward in a positive direction. That we say, ‘We are going to fight tooth and nail to keep this resource’,” remarked one resident of Bethel Township.

Troy Fire Chief Matt Simmons told Miami Valley Today the city is not trying to “skirt, argue or fight” about the issue and felt they were following what was laid out for the implementation of the baby box. He noted a camera outside of the fire department does not capture the sidewalk or inside the vestibule, where the baby box is located, and a mother’s anonymity is not an issue.

“We are committed to it and are here to serve. We will do whatever and are working it out with the state. We talked directly with the Ohio Department of Health and they are working to get a meeting set up with the governor’s office and firefighters.