May 24, 2020

Warning system fails > Abduction occurs despite alert for other hospitals

Sometime after noon Sunday, Mid-Maine Medical Center in Waterville contacted Maine hospitals warning of an intruder dressed like a nurse and looking for babies.

Teletypes sent a similar message to law enforcement officials around the state including the Bangor Police Department.

One day later, 55 miles up the road in Bangor at Eastern Maine Medical Center, a newborn was abducted. Same intruder, different hospital.

Somewhere along the line, a warning system intended to give other hospitals a vital heads-up failed.

Nicole Yablonka entered Mid-Maine Medical Center about 10:30 a.m. Sunday. Dressed in pink hospital scrubs, her hair up in a bun and carryng a clipboard, she looked the part, a nurse starting her day at the hospital. She looked like she belonged in the hospital.

For an added effect, she limped, with one leg in a walking cast. She headed for the third floor of the hospital’s Thayer Unit, the maternity ward, according to Detective Jeff Bearce of the Waterville Police Department.

Once there, she began to walk around, telling people she wanted to interview new mothers or that she wanted to take a baby to the lab, according to the teletype.

Maternity staff closed in, and when the woman failed to produce hospital identification, Yablonka left on her own. Hospital security was notified but the hospital stopped short of calling a “code pink,” which would have set into motion the hospital’s rapid response to a baby abduction. The hospital would have been secured and searched.

What happened next is a contentious issue.

Mid-Maine hospital spokeswoman Monica Charette said the hospital called other Maine hospitals to warn them of the incident.

She said a phone call was made to Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor.

“That was part of our responsibility to let our fellow hospital colleagues know what was going on,” said Charette.

Officials at EMMC said Monday evening that they turned the hospital upside down but had yet to find anyone who took the warning call from Waterville.

“We have not been able to confirm that the call was actually received, not that we doubt Waterville, but all we have at this point is their security report,” said EMMC spokeswoman Nancy Ballard.

And although Bangor police had received a teletype describing Yablonka and her escapade, it was not relayed to the Bangor hospital. Bangor’s Lt. Don Winslow said the Police Department receives a lot information and requests for information from other law enforcement agencies.

“It would not be routine for us to notify the hospital,” Winslow said. “If we had any tangible reason to think our hospitals were at risk we would have notified them without hesitation.”

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