'Baby Box' gets approval from Portales council

Sep. 16—A "baby box" at the Portales Fire Station received final approval Tuesday from the Portales City Council.

The "baby box" is a safe incubation device in which a baby under 90 days old may be placed, rather than being abandoned. The device would also automatically notify first responders and adoption authorities that a baby has been placed there.baby box, will be protected from criminal child abandonment charges under the New Mexico Safe Haven for Infants Act.

At a public hearing before the council approved the ordinance on Tuesday, Councilor Veronica Cordova, President of the Roosevelt/Curry Right to Life Committee Angie Smith, and Monica Kelsey, founder of the Safe Haven movement, spoke in favor of the safe haven baby box.

The council approved a Safe Haven ordinance a year ago, but concerns of the legality of the baby box pushed the project further out, Smith said. Cordova said they had met with legal teams for advice about installing the baby box.

"I want to first reiterate that the baby box has been approved, we're just working out the legals. So we (the council) are in support of the baby box. We just need to get a few things cleared up," Cordova reminded the audience.

Smith said that often, communities have to raise $20,000 or more in order to install the box, getting a contractor and handling other necessary prerequisites to get the device on site. She said Portales only needed to raise a little over $16,000 because several community members decided to volunteer their work and time.

The money was raised within three months after being approved by the city council, said Smith. She said how quickly the money was obtained showed how much this movement meant to the community and how much they cherish life for the baby and mother.

The baby box, which cost $11,000, would have regulated temperature settings to keep the baby safe from the harsh environment, while also having cameras installed to help first responders to monitor the baby at all times. Smith said the remaining amount of the $16,000 would be going towards a Safe Haven campaign which would have billboards informing parents the kind of services they can seek within Portales.

"I myself have volunteered to be somebody who can go into schools and other places to teach about the SafeHaven line, the Safe Haven baby box," Smith said.

Smith said there would be a contract between the city and Right to Life and contractors that required a $300 maintenance fee that goes to the box each year. She said Right to Life would always take to the lead in raising the money for the maintenance.

"I think it's really wonderful that our community raises the money. There is an option that the governor, without getting too far into it, set aside for counties to be able to have Safe Haven baby boxes. Which is fine, but anytime you accept something from the government there could be strings attached to it," Smith said.

To alleviate concerns on the safety of leaving the baby in the box and the city possibly being sued, Smith said all first responders would be properly trained in handling the device and how to attend to babies. She added the safe haven law is already in effect and would be no different from what happens if the parent were to give their child to emergency personnel in person.

Smith informed the audience that the average response time for a first responder to attend the baby box is two minutes. The infant would also be cared for by emergency medical services (EMS).

"Anytime we send out our law enforcement, anytime we send out our fire and EMS on a call there's always that risk especially with the environment we're in at New Mexico," Smith said. "There's always going to be that risk, but we send them out anyway because we know the life on the other end is worth that risk."

She said the community is only extending love and compassion to a child that needs a home and a mother that needs help. The city council came to a unanimous decision to continue further with the project and finalize the contract.

In other action Tuesday, the council:

— Heard Mayor Ron Jackson's proclamation that declared Sept.17 — 23 as Constitution Week. Mayor Jackson said the week-long celebration would be marked as a day of remembrance for when the country's founding fathers created the U.S. Constitution.

— Unanimously authorized a funding application for a $50,000 pet spay and neuter grant.

— Heard a presentation by Eastern New Mexico Water Utility Authority Administrator Orlando Ortega. The presentation introduced what organization and showed several projects which were in progress.

— Under a unanimous decision, agreed to give the city's fire department four new cardiac monitors and defibrillators for the total cost of $184,650, and approved application for a grant to purchase a new ambulance for a total cost of $251,275.

— Heard City Manager Sarah Austin ask for a modification in an application for financial assistance to the New Mexico Finance Authority's Water Trust Board for wellfield and water storage improvements from $80 million to two separate $20 million requests. The council agreed to this request after Austin said the $80 million request would be denied.