Picture this: While visiting a hospital, you see a newborn baby being discharged. A staffer carries the baby in a car seat to the curb, where a minivan is parked, and hands the seat and baby off to the beaming new father, who puts the seat in the vehicle facing the wrong way, then drapes the seat belt loosely over the whole contraption. Meanwhile, two nurses watch silently from the sidewalk.
This very scenario transpired recently in front of a Fit Pregnancy editor at a Southern California hospital. After our editor's paramedic husband volunteered to help install the seat properly, the nurses thanked him profusely. "We're not allowed to help with car seats or even say anything, because if something happened we'd be liable," one said.
Many states require hospitals to verify that new parents have a car seat upon discharge, and many hospitals offer educational programs for parents on proper car seat use. But fear of lawsuits in the event of a crash prevents hospitals from allowing employees to actually install the seat or show parents how to use it.
Pina Violano wants to change all that. A registered nurse and injury prevention coordinator at Yale-New Haven Children's Hospital in Connecticut, Violano has developed a program in which hospital staffers put newborns (as well as older children) in car seats upon discharge and even offer to install bases and seats in parents' vehicles before they leave the hospital. The fledgling program already has two staffers certified as car seat safety technicians.
Surprisingly, liability concerns didn't stop the program from getting off the ground, Violano says. "I told our risk management department, 'Either way, we're liable. People look to us for the safety of their kids—what's the liability if we send home kids who aren't safe? We get the ones who weren't properly restrained in accidents. We have to practice what we preach.'"
Violano is confident the idea will catch on. "Times are changing," she says. "Hospitals will eventually realize that it behooves us all from an economic viewpoint, let alone ethically and morally, because we're preventing injuries in kids who would come through our doors.
"Besides," she adds, "As a mom myself, I feel that even one child getting hurt is way too many."