FOOTPRINTS TO THE PAST

Hillsboro Community Hospital employees Kathy Ehrlich, records manager, standing, looks at one of the old documents Lillian Bookless, social services designee and transcriptionist, reviews. The two women are wanting to match the rightful parents with the unofficial copy of the birth certificate and footprints.
Hillsboro Community Hospital employees Kathy Ehrlich, records manager, standing, looks at one of the old documents Lillian Bookless, social services designee and transcriptionist, reviews. The two women are wanting to match the rightful parents with the unofficial copy of the birth certificate and footprints.
When the Hillsboro hospital at 701 S. Main St., moved to the new facility at 101 Industrial Road last April, two employees, Kathy Ehrlich and Lillian Bookless, started parting ways with old medical records.

“We don’t have a lot of storage (at the new hospital), and the state of Kansas will allow hospitals to purge files after 10 years,” said Ehrlich, who is in charge of medical records.

For that reason, Bookless, a social services designee and transcriptionist, and Ehr­lich, reviewed the old records already being stored in the basement.

“Some of those records go back into the 1930s,” Ehrlich said. “These are old, old records.”

While Bookless was going through records with no expectation of finding “keepsakes,” she said it was Ehrlich who first spotted the baby footprints on unofficial birth certificates.

Bookless said: “As I was processing these records, I was picking these baby footprints, but it was Kathy who saw that and said something.”

Ehrlich told Bookless they can’t shred those documents.

“I spoke with Marion Regier (HCH chief executive officer) to see if instead of shredding the records, I could send them to the family.”

Regier said she would rather send the footprints to the rightful owners instead of purging the re­cords, proving the requirements of HIPPA laws were followed.

Coincidentally, Ehrlich said, the first one she found was somebody she knew.

Lots of feedback

Once the message got out that Hillsboro Community Hospital had birth records complete with tiny footprints, it was as if someone opened the floodgates. The calls poured in.

News of these unofficial birth certificates with the baby’s footprints and the mother’s fingerprint started in the 1960s and continued to into the first part of 2000, Ehrlich said.

“We heard so many responses on Facebook,” she said. “It was shared about 8,500 times, and the page activity was about 980,000 with 600-plus comments.”

While editing Facebook, the information was taken off accidentally, Ehr­lich said, but the feedback has been tremendous.

Bookless and Ehrlich offered a bit of trivia about the Hillsboro hospital, which explains some of the comments they received by people in other areas.

“Before this facility was Hillsboro Community Hospital, which happened in 2008, it was first Salem Hospital and later Hillsboro Community Medical Center,” Ehrlich said.

Some of the reactions to the footprints came as far away as England.

Ehrlich said she discovered there was a Hillsboro, England, because she had a conversation with someone there.

And, even though this person knew the hospital here wouldn’t have what she wanted, she still thought it was fun to talk to someone in Kansas, Ehrlich said.

“We also learned there’s a Salem Hospital in Illinois, and a Hillsboro Hospital in the state of Washington, and it was enjoyable to talk to all these people,” she said.

How many?

Ehrlich said they have found about 200 records that include the footprints or other items in addition to the document.

“We will be done going through the boxes by the end of this year,” she said.

But, Bookless said, that won’t necessarily mean they have all the footprints.

So far, Ehrlich said they have sent documents to Texas, Virginia, California, Illinois, Washington, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Minnesota, Florida, Missouri, Arizona, Iowa, New Mexico Oregon and South Dakota.

“From what I recollect, we have sent footprints to Hillsboro, Marion, McPherson, Durham, Lincolnville, Canton, Wamego and Solomon in Kansas.

The ways Bookless and Ehrlich have been contacted are as varied as the footprints themselves.

Bookless said: “I got asked about (the document) when I was uptown by someone who said, ‘How do I find out about the feet?,’ and I said, you just told me.”

Ehrlich said she had two people call her before the Hillsboro all-school reunion.

“I was so happy to find both of them,” she said. “The two people wanted to talk to me specifically, and they had Post-it notes with their information. When I was downtown, the two said they got their feet.”

“It is such a cool thing to do,” she said.

Reactions

“I have had some people request the footprints because they are curious,” Ehrlich said. “They are moms now, and they want their footprints as a baby.”

One mother called to ask Ehrlich to find her son’s record because he died in a car crash.

“I did send her the birth certificate with the footprints, and I did hear back from them saying it made their day, they cried, too,” she said.

In another situation, Bookless found the records for a girl requesting the information because her parents had died in 2016.

“When Lillian found it, I mailed it out last Tuesday,” Ehrlich said. “One woman wanted her daughter’s ‘feet-prints’ because that little girl was having her first baby.”

Ehrlich said she thinks the oldest footprint document she sent back to someone was from 1968.

“I also sent one out from 1954, but there wasn’t a footprint—just the birth records” she said. “Those records would have included the mom’s name, birth certificate, and on this one was a piece of paper attached to it.”

The note included how long this woman was in labor, and the color of the gown she wore.

“Must have been the thing back then with moms in 1954,” Ehrlich said.

Bittersweet moments

Ehrlich said she has had a number of parents who have lost their children, and want their footprints.

“There was one from Park City—she had lost her son not too long ago, and another mother lost her son at 17 years old. I found his birth certificate with footprints,” she said.

Ehrlich said one man who touched her heart in a special way.

“He asked me for his son’s footprints (and any other documents), but I guess he didn’t realize there were also Polaroid (picture), so I sent those, too.”

Once he received the documents and picture, he responded by telling Ehrlich it was the first picture he had with the mother and baby.

“It was his wife, and she had just died about three weeks prior to receiving the picture,” she said.

“Sometimes, we have found Polaroids of a mother and a baby, sometimes it’s a mom, dad and a baby, and some are with the mom, dad, baby and many, many other siblings.”

Lots of requests

Ehrlich has organized a list of the people requesting footprints and the list is growing daily.

“Other than letting someone know I received their email, the last count of total emails waiting for footprints stands at 485-plus,” she said.

In sending the footprints and other records off to someone, Ehrlich said she uses a lot of her own stamps and old envelopes that wouldn’t be used anymore for hospital business.

“I get all my other work done first, and then with the extra time, I look into finding footprints (based on email, telephone or mail requests.),” she said.

Two things Bookless said she has found curious about the footprints is that on one of the records, the baby’s right foot was smaller than the left one.

“Not that it matters, and it might have been from the way they did the print,” she said.

“The other thing I noticed was that from a 6- to 7-pound baby, to a 9-pound baby, it can be a massive difference in those feet,” she said. “The 9-pounder’s feet will go right over the whole thing and the 6-pound baby’s feet are not even close.”

Those involved with the project say if it weren’t for the due diligence of Ehrlich and Bookless, along with CEO Regier—who want the records to go to their rightful owners—hundreds of those first symbols honoring newborns might have been lost forever.

For more information about footprints or other records, call HCH at 620-947-3114.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Hillsboro Community Hospital states that HIPAA laws were followed during this project and proper proof of identification and authorization was obtained prior to sending these out.