Hospital admits five baby mixups since 1990
Mistakes rare considering the 17,000 births in last decade
by Martin van den Hemel, staff reporter
How many other mothers have been given the wrong baby in Richmond Hospital’s maternity ward?
That’s the question a fourth woman is asking herself after reading about the similar experiences of three others
in The Richmond Review over the last two weeks.
The woman, who wished to remain anonymous, said she gave birth to her second child shortly before midnight on Dec. 20,
Following the delivery, she was asked by a nurse if she would like her baby to be kept in the nursery so she could rest
a few hours. She accepted the offer.
A short time later, she awoke to the glare of an overhead light and was handed a baby by a nurse.
“Here’s your baby, she’s hungry,” the mother recalls the nurse saying.
After trying to get the crying newborn to latch on for a couple of minutes, the woman noticed it had more hair, and possibly
darker hair, than she recalled. Then she checked the identification tag around the baby’s wrist and it had a completely
different name on it.
Shocked and desperate to find her own baby, she jumped out of bed with the stranger’s baby in her arms and ran down
the maternity ward hallway, shouting “Where’s my baby? This is not my child.”
She recalls that a nurse told her to calm down and said newborns all look the same.
The mother then located her own baby, who was crying in another bassinet in the nursery. She then demanded to be released
from the hospital because, she said, she no longer felt comfortable staying there.
“I want to know how often this has happened,” she said. “That was awful. It was a really horrible situation
to go through.”
There was no hospital apology after that incident. This turned out to be the second incident of its kind that year.
Just 11 months earlier, in February 1990, a Surrey woman was given the wrong baby to nurse.
In November 1996, another Richmond woman nursed a stranger’s baby after a nursery mixup.
And 20 years ago, Richmond’s Carol Hebbard said she was given the wrong baby to breastfeed.
A couple of days after delivering on April 4, 1981, a still groggy Hebbard was awoken by a nurse who brought in a baby.
After feeding the newborn for about five minutes, she noticed it was acting differently and checked the bracelet. Sure enough,
it wasn’t her child.
“I was thinking I hope they didn’t give my baby to someone else.”
Hebbard said she felt strange and awkward following the incident. She didn’t receive an apology.
In the most recent incident in April, Richmond’s Tracy Peng breastfed a stranger’s baby. The mother of that
baby was a Hepatitis B carrier.
Richmond Hospital spokesman Peter Roaf said there have been a total of five mixups since 1990—the fifth incident
occurred in 1995 or 1996—a 10-year span in which the hospital has delivered some 17,000 babies.
In 1996, the hospital reviewed its protocols regarding the way babies are handled in the maternity ward, coming up with
new guidelines to ensure similar mixups don’t repeat themselves.
“It’s very rare,” Roaf said of the mistakes.
Roaf said he reviewed the incident in 1996 and noted the father of the newborn went to pick up his baby in the nursery
and pointed out the wrong baby, according to a nurse.
“The father went in and said ‘That’s my baby,’” Roaf said.
Despite the best efforts of hospital staff, mistakes of this nature do happen in other hospitals, Roaf said, not just in
According to a Las Vegas consulting firm that studied baby switching in 1996, 1 out of every 1,000 infant transfers in
U.S. hospitals is a mistake. In a handful of cases, the mixups are not discovered until after the baby has been brought home.
There have been instances in the United States where nurses responsible for feeding-related baby mixups have been fired.
But Roaf said that there were no firings or other disciplinary action resulting from these five incidents. Nurses, however,
were verbally warned that the mistakes will not be tolerated.
Roaf noted the hospital has taken measures to bolster security, installing cameras, limiting outside access and increasing
general security in the maternity ward.
Nurses are required to check the identification tag on the baby and that of a mother or father every time a baby is transferred,