Bye-bye, Baby New Year. The crowning of the year's first baby is being kept secret in many communities as hospitals say safety concerns trump tradition. Community Health Systems—one of the country's largest health care operators—recently ordered its 207 facilities to stop publicizing the first baby of the year, citing the potential for abductions and identity theft. Other US hospitals have either removed themselves from the new year's tradition altogether or limited the amount of information provided to the media. "We know the birth of the new year baby is a joyous and exciting event, but protecting patient safety and privacy is our most important responsibility," says Tomi Galin, a spokeswoman for the Franklin, Tennessee-based company.
She pointed to guidance from the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, which has suggested health care providers obtain parental consent and eliminate home addresses and other identifying information from birth announcements or stop providing them to media. Still, the head of the center's missing children division said, the tradition of publicizing a hospital's first birth of the year is relatively low-risk. "We've never given direction to hospitals that they shouldn't do it," says the center's Robert Lowery, stressing caution, not overreaction. Community Health's decision to opt-out of the New Year's baby business made front-page headlines this week in many states after local journalists learned they would need to look elsewhere for news on the usually slow holiday. (Read more New Year stories.)