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Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital Slapped with $50,000 Fine After 2009 Baby Abduction

California Department of Public Health launches statewide review in the wake of the incident and penalizes 14 facilities for noncompliance

Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital is facing a $50,000 fine after a state oversight agency reviewed the circumstances surrounding an infant kidnapping from the hospital’s Mother Infant Unit in 2009.

Police arrested Leanna Patricia Arzate in February 2009 after she took an infant from the mother’s room while dressed as a nurse. The baby boy was unharmed and returned to his family several hours after being taken from the hospital. Arzate, of Santa Maria, was sentenced in 2009 to 11 years in prison.

After the incident, Cottage Hospital was one of 14 facilities hit with penalties by the California Department of Public Health for noncompliance with licensing requirements that caused, or were likely to cause, serious injury or death to patients.

Cottage Health System spokeswoman Janet O’Neill told Noozhawk on Friday that Cottage took the incident very seriously when it occurred and implemented a series of security improvements, including mandatory badges for everyone who enters its hospitals in Santa Barbara, Goleta and Santa Ynez.

“It’s almost three years ago now since the incident, and of course we were relieved that, because of our existing security system and with the support of local law enforcement, we were able to recover the baby within hours and return it to its parents,” O’Neill told Noozhawk.

Click here to view the full list of hospitals facing fines throughout California.

A report details steps Cottage Hospital has taken to improve security in the wake of the incident. At the time of the kidnapping, there were no dedicated security guards on the floor, and nurses were responsible for screening and monitoring visitors to the unit. Since then, a security greeter was permanently posted to the hospital’s Mother Infant Unit, and the hospital has implemented a badge process for individuals entering the MIU, the report said.

Access to the hospital was also limited to visitors with two entrances, and security greeters were placed in the front lobby to identify each visitor and find out the reason for his or her visit.

Hospital staff reported that Arzate had been seen in the MIU three times in the days preceding the abduction, each time wearing scrubs. When asked what she was doing in the MIU unit, she told staffers she was visiting a friend.

The morning of the abduction, she told the mother she would be taking the baby to do footprints, and the mother agreed. Shortly after, a nurse entered the room and saw the empty bassinet.

Both mother and child had been wearing a security bracelet that would sound if the baby left the MIU, but the child’s bracelet had been removed from his ankle and not triggered, leaving Arzate able to smuggle the baby out in a large purse.

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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