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When Jodi Ferris arrived at Hershey Medical Center after giving birth in an ambulance, the last thing she and her husband, Scott, expected was to lose custody of their newborn daughter, forcing them to spend the first night of their daughter’s life sleeping in their car in the parking lot across the street. But that is exactly what happened after Jodi—like any concerned mom—apparently asked hospital staff too many questions about the care her baby daughter was receiving. In March we told you about the civil rights case HSLDA filed against the Pennsylvania social worker and Hershey Medical Center staff who seized “Annie” shortly after she was born. Several months later, in July, the social worker and the medical defendants both asked the federal district court judge to dismiss the lawsuit. If these motions had been granted, the case would have ended. Now, we’re pleased to report a major victory in this case. Last week the judge denied both motions to dismiss, allowing the Ferrises’ case to proceed.
Scott and Jodi had planned on having a home birth, but when Jodi’s labor progressed too quickly for the midwife to arrive, they called an ambulance. Annie was born on the way to the hospital. At the hospital, Jodi was met with a flurry of activity. Some of it was what you would expect after delivering a baby in an ambulance. As any concerned mom would do, Jodi asked about the condition of her child and the care she was receiving. Jodi received conflicting answers, ranging from a statement that Annie was doing fine to one that she would need stay in the hospital for three days. This understandably caused Jodi more concern and prompted her to ask her questions with more urgency. Not too long after Jodi and Annie arrived, it appeared that the medical staff had had enough of Jodi questioning what they were doing. A government social worker, Angela Lopez-Heagy, entered Jodi’s room and announced that she was there to conduct an investigation of allegations the nature of which she refused to divulge.
When Jodi told Lopez-Heagy that she wasn’t comfortable answering questions without knowing what the allegations were, the social worker told her that if Jodi wasn’t willing to cooperate she would call a police officer to take custody of Annie. The social worker grilled Jodi about why she had refused to allow the hospital to give Annie the hepatitis B vaccine, and asked other questions about Annie’s care that HSLDA believes fall within routine parental decision making. From time to time, the social worker would leave the room to confer with hospital staff. A nurse physically blocked the door to prevent Jodi from also leaving.
Eventually the social worker told Jodi that she would need to agree to a “safety plan.’ When Jodi asked to see the plan, Lopez-Heagy told her it wasn”t written down yet, but if she did not consent to the safety plan and agree to “whatever the hospital wanted,” she would lose custody of her newborn child. Meanwhile, Scott had left to bring the Ferrises’ other children to a friends’ home. Jodi told the social worker that she was not comfortable signing a safety plan before Scott returned. Lopez-Heagy responded that she was not waiting any longer. If Scott returned by the time the safety plan was prepared, she said, he could review it. Otherwise, if Jodi didn’t sign the safety plan, “I’m calling the police and having them take custody of the baby.”
That is exactly what happened. Jodi was directed by a uniformed police officer to hand her newborn daughter over to a nurse. Although she begged to be allowed to sign the safety plan even though Scott hadn’t returned, she was told, “That window has closed.” Jodi was then escorted off the hospital premises. On the way out she met Scott, who was just returning from dropping off the other children. Jodi was allowed to return every three hours to nurse the baby, but she could not remain in the hospital. She and Scott slept in their car in the parking lot across the street. The next morning, a juvenile-court judge returned Annie to Scott and Jodi. Two weeks later he dismissed the case against them.
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