The search for a woman who left a Wichita hospital against medical advice shortly after giving birth to a baby this week has raised questions about privacy and safety.
Police say they didn't take the decision to release the picture of a woman who'd left the hospital without her baby shortly after giving birth, lightly. But, they decided her safety was more important than her privacy.
"Law enforcement isn't a one sized fits all answer," said Wichita Police spokesman Lt. Doug Nolte. "Every situation has to be looked at critically."
Police weren't looking for her for any crime, but rather wanted to make sure she was alright. She'd left the hospital against medical advice hours after delivering her baby. Police took the infant into protective custody under the state's Safe Haven law, then began looking for the mother.
"We were checking on her welfare because we were concerned about her physical well being," said Nolte.
Eventually police asked for the public's help in identifying her from a hospital surveillance photo.
"We do it quite frequently when we have someone that has a Silver Alert or there's an Amber Alert," said Nolte. "Just because that one didn't fall into that category doesn't mean that we don't care and have concerns for all citizens."
But many in the public felt the woman's right to privacy had been violated, especially under the Safe Haven law.
"In the law it does not guarantee anonymity. It guarantees no prosecution," said Nolte.
They made their opinions known in emails, phone calls and online comments.
"I think the public was certainly voicing their opinion on the issue and we always appreciate a solid discussion," he said.
In a statement the hospital says it turned the case over to police and that was it.
"We never released anything to the media. We did not ask anyone to do anything on our behalf," said Via Christi spokesperson Roz Hutchinson. "We simply made a report to law enforcement because we had good faith reason to believe there was a potential serious threat to the life and health of the mother. That is one of the exceptions under HIPAA."
Here at Eyewitness News, we had several long discussions about whether to use the photo. In the end, we used it until the woman was found, then took it down. News Director Brian Gregory explains the decision making process here.