Tricia Burkett, coordinator of Safe Place for Newborns, Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare – St. Joseph

For Tricia Burkett, Wisconsin’s safe haven law hits home. Burkett is the adoptive mother of a baby girl, now 2 years old, who was safely relinquished by her birth mother through the Safe Place for Newborns program, now based in Milwaukee.

The program raises public awareness about the state’s safe haven law to help prevent parents in crisis from disposing or abandoning newborns in ways that result in death.

Under the law, any parent may legally relinquish an infant to health care, emergency or public safety personnel within 72 hours of birth. Since the law went into effect in 2001, more than 100 newborns have been safely relinquished to authorities.

A social worker, Burkett had been running the Baby Safe Haven site at Wheaton Franciscan-St. Joseph in Milwaukee when state officials approached her to run the statewide initiative. She has been the statewide coordinator since January.

Burkett’s dedication to spreading the word about the law stems in part from her own experience as an adoptive mother, says Shelli Marquardt, executive director of Wheaton Franciscan-St. Joseph Foundation.

“Tricia has transformed the Safe Place for Newborns from a small grassroots effort into a broader, more effective initiative that raises awareness and provides resources to professionals who interact with women experiencing crisis pregnancies and individuals and families in need,” Marquardt wrote in her nomination of Burkett as a Health Care Hero.

Results for the first six months of 2010 point to Tricia’s impact, says Marquardt.

“During that time, more than 10 legally abandoned babies have been successfully placed with adoptive families. At least one was relinquished as a result of Tricia’s Safe Place for Newborns awareness efforts,” Marquardt wrote in Burkett’s Health Care Hero nomination.

Still, not enough people know the law is an option for someone in crisis. In August, a newborn suffocated after the mother placed the baby in a trash bin outside a Wisconsin restaurant shortly birth.

“To me, one death is too many,” Burkett says. “It’s so frustrating knowing that something that tragic could have been prevented.”

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