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Newborn abandoned in Otter Tail County

Authorities in Otter Tail County are in charge of finding a home for a baby boy who was left anonymously Monday at a Fergus Falls hospital.

Police were called to Lake Region Hospital at 6:22 p.m. after an unknown female came into the facility and left the baby with hospital staff, said Fergus Falls police Sgt. Terry Eldien.

The baby, believed to have been born within a day or so, was left under Minnesota's Safe Place for Newborns law, Eldien said. The law - enacted in 2000 - gives mothers the option of giving up unwanted newborn babies at hospitals without facing prosecution.

"The whole purpose of the law is to prevent other tragedies from happening to the babies if the mothers are not prepared or unable to care for the child," Eldien said. "At least this gives them an alternative where they can at least give the child a chance for the future."

Monday marks the first time Lake Region Hospital officials can recall someone dropping off an infant, hospital spokeswoman Lori Larson said Tuesday. She said the baby underwent medical exams, but she did not know when the baby was dropped off at the hospital.

Larson could not release specifics about the incident or whether the newborn is still a hospital patient because of privacy laws.

Brad Vold, a social services supervisor for Otter Tail County, said authorities will not seek the mother for abandonment or neglect charges under the "Safe Place" law, but will pursue adoption proceedings for the baby.

It's unknown how long it will take for county authorities to find the baby a home. Vold said the time depends on the baby's medical needs and other entities involved, such as the court system.

Under Minnesota's "Safe Place" law, a child - born within 72 hours - can be left at a hospital with an employee, provided the baby is left unharmed and the hospital does not inquire about the mother's identity.

The hospital must notify local child welfare authorities within 24 hours of receiving the baby.

North Dakota has a similar "safe haven" law allowing abandoned infants under age 1 to be left at a hospital by a parent or someone acting as an agent of the parent with permission.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Benny Polacca at (701) 241-5504