The young woman had been watching the nursery for days.
With her eye on a particular baby girl, she would appear only when the child's mother wasn't around. Having talked the nurses into believing she was the child's aunt, the woman would hold her, feed her and change her diapers.
But then the nightmare occurred at Children's Hospital, Columbus, Ohio. The woman was able to sneak into the nursery one night and steal the baby under the cover of darkness.
The kidnapping was the second from that nursery in the past two years. Luckily, both children were later found, unharmed.
Recently, Children's revamped its nursery security procedures, restricting access and requiring anyone entering to wear a badge with their names as proof that they had been cleared by security.
The kidnappings offer examples of the growing epidemic of hospital crime that's prompted many administrators to review and toughen their security measures.
"We had a man break into one of our (medical) office buildings, take a nurse hostage and shoot her," said Scott Parker, the chief executive officer of Intermountain Health Care, a Salt Lake City-based system of 24 hospitals in Idaho, Utah and Wyoming.
Although hostage-taking incidents are virtually impossible to prevent, an analysis of security at Intermountain's facilities identified areas where security needed to be tightened and heightened, he said.
"We have had waves of thievery. The hospital is loaded with very expensive technology," Mr. Parker said. "We had to review certain areas and seal them off."
In light of the escalating violence, which stems in large measure from the country's substance abuse problem, many hospitals now require that all prospective employees be tested to see if they're using drugs. Intermountain Health Care's hospitals don't require testing. However, hospital officials do conduct background checks on prospective employees.
Still, much of the crime problem comes from the outside, executives say. "We have had two armed robberies (of hospital employees) in the last three days," said Stuart Williams, executive director of Columbus' Children's Hospital. The hospital has its own internal security force, but it hires outside security firms to act as consultants and make suggestions on improvements. The hospital also hires off-duty Columbus police officers to strengthen its security unit, Mr. Williams said.
Two dogs regularly patrol the perimeter of the hospital. In addition, in the last decade the hospital has installed cameras with 24-hour tapes in various areas to videotape all activities, Mr. Williams said.
While many hospitals run their own security operations, private firms specializing in hospital security are making their mark, including Memphis, Tenn.-based Guardsmark.
"We are known for our extraordinary screening procedures for security officers," said John Clarke, president of Guardsmark's healthcare division.
In a three-day process, potential security officers fill out a 24-page application asking for personal references going back 10 years and names of neighbors the company can call for detailed background checks.
Mr. Clarke contends that his security firm can offer hospitals a higher level of expertise while saving them from 15% to 20% on what they're now spending on security measures.
But Mr. Clarke declined to discuss what it would cost an average hospital to contract with his company. He said costs vary depending on the size and type of hospital and what services it needs.
Guardsmark looks at all aspects of a hospital's operations to design a security package, including protection at reception areas, safeguarding equipment storage areas and changing certain hospital procedures, such as how drugs are stored and distributed.
A recent change Guardsmark implemented at one hospital involved creating a program for recording and controlling the release of patients' belongings.