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Public Safety at Hospitals: Are You Safe?

Posted by on Jun. 23, 2014 at 7:12 PM
  • 14 Replies

Public Safety at Hospitals: Are You Safe?

How hospitals are protecting your safety.

Doctors and nurses rushes for emergency in hospital corridor.

With patients biting, hitting and pulling knives at an increasing rate, urgent scenes at hospitals are not uncommon these days.

By + More

When the distraught son of an elderly woman undergoing cancer treatment at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore opened fire on his mother’s surgeon in September 2010, shock, panic and a total lockdown of the hospital set in. The surgeon recovered, but the hospital staff was traumatized.

Hospitals are places of healing, but they are also public institutions – not unlike the mall, airport or school. That opens them up to the same types of security issues that increasingly plague public environments.

“Securing a hospital is very different. It is meant to be a welcoming place,” says Gabor Kelen, chair ofemergency medicine at Johns Hopkins University and director of the Center for the Study of Preparedness and Catastrophic Event Response. “The idea of turning it into Fort Knox is not really doable.”

In the aftermath of the 2010 shooting, Kelen and colleagues conducted a study of hospital-based shootings in the U.S. between 2000 and 2011. Searching through media and other reports, they identified 154 incidents – a little more than half of those inside hospitals.

“When you think about all the kinds of shootings in the U.S., 90 in 12 years is almost nothing,” Kelen says, adding that almost none were random acts of violence. Most took place either in the emergency room or patient rooms and were motivated by a grudge, suicide or intent to euthanize an ill relative.

“If you’re a patient and are going to be shot, it’s going to be by a relative who wants to put you out of your misery,” rather than as a victim of episodic violence, Kelen says.

[Read: Your Rights as a Hospital Patient.]

Patient-Generated Violence on the Rise

What is instead increasing at an alarming rate in hospitals is violence perpetrated by patients themselves – typically, mental health patients or the elderly.

“I was a cop in D.C. for 10 years, and I’ve got nothing on an emergency department nurse,” says Kevin Whaley , the director of security at the George Washington University Hospital in the District of Columbia.

Patients will bite, hit, pull knives and even turn to hospital equipment like IV poles to use as weapons against those who are caring for them.

Tony York, the chief operating officer for Healthcare Security Services in Denver, Colorado, which monitors security at hospitals throughout the nation, says there has been an “explosion of patient-generated violence” in the past several years – both from patients themselves and, often, the people accompanying them to the hospital. “Those are things that have driven this industry immensely,” York says.

Whaley adds that in the last year, the rate of mental health patients arriving at the ER has increased 500 to 600 percent because of federal cutbacks in mental health programs. As a result, both hospital staff and security officers have had to adopt a more proactive approach to recognizing potentially violent patients and visitors and taking measures to calm them down.

[Read: 11 Items to Pack in Your Hospital Bag.]

Safety Measures

“We’re an urban hospital in the nation’s capitol, so there’s a much more heightened level of threat for us,” Whaley says. In any given day, their stream of ER patients runs the gamut from international dignitaries to homeless drug addicts, and everyone in between.

At GW, as with most hospitals throughout the nation, anyone who enters has to sign in, state the reason for the visit (if it’s to visit a patient, that patient will be called) and show a photo ID. About 130 security cameras are in various locations, such as waiting rooms and cafeterias, but not in patient areas because of privacy laws.

GW doesn’t have metal detectors like some hospitals do; nor do they have armed guards inside the hospital. The idea of unarmed guards is to keep guns outside of hospitals, since most perpetrators of violence use guns they’ve grabbed from security guards (instead of guns they’ve brought in.) “Some hospitals include police dogs in the waiting room, and that has a certain calming effect,” Kelen says.

And usually certain units have heightened security measures: Labor and delivery, the ER, the ICU, and mental health floors generally require swipe cards to gain entrance.

York adds that some hospitals are also being redesigned for heightened security – with features like bulletproof windows that don’t face public roads. “Now it’s a matter of thinking about, where do I position a ​nurse taking vitals?" he says. "How do we now sterilize rooms for potential weapons when we know that the typical hospital environment has a lot of things that can potentially be used in violence?”

[Read: Paint, Write, Sing: How the Arts Help Heal Patients.]​

What to Watch For

The average hospital patient – and his or her loved ones – should not have to worry about their own safety. They should, however, be aware of a few things:

  • “It’s important that patients and visitors recognize how intense the environment is,” York says. Hospital visits to the ER, at least, are usually not first-come, first-serve. The sickest patients get priority, so be prepared to wait and deal with that waiting period. “Wait times increase anxiety and the tendency to act out,” York adds.
  • “If you see something, say something.” Whaley says the same advice to D.C. metro riders applies to hospital visitors. Be aware of your surroundings, and if something or someone looks suspect, report it.
  • Be patient with security measures. Whether it’s waiting in line to show your ID or obtaining special permission to visit a loved one on an extra-secure floor, realize that the measures are there for a reason.

“Understand that with security, we are trying to minimize the level of inconvenience,” York says. “It’s not to make their lives more miserable, but to keep [patients] safe. The health care environment as a whole is still very safe. We shouldn’t have people worrying about personal safety when they need to harness their energy to heal themselves.”

by on Jun. 23, 2014 at 7:12 PM
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Replies (1-10):
MeAndTommyLee
by Platinum Member on Jun. 23, 2014 at 7:20 PM
1 mom liked this

The safest floor of the hospital is maternity 

supermonstermom
by on Jun. 23, 2014 at 7:23 PM
1 mom liked this

I could see my  grandpa hitting someone with an iv pole even at 90-something.

jllcali
by Jane on Jun. 23, 2014 at 7:31 PM
I can tell you the solution is most definitely not having armed nurses/doctors/medical staff. You can't focus 100% on patient care AND 100% on securing your weapon. All someone would have to do is wait until the armed personnel was performing patient care, and take their weapon. Easy peasy.

They need to get away from the press ganey type surveys, take assaults on medical staff seriously, allow medical staff the ability to defend themselves, even if the aggressive patient gets a couple bruises in the process.
jllcali
by Jane on Jun. 23, 2014 at 7:32 PM
LOL. Not necessarily.

Quoting MeAndTommyLee:

The safest floor of the hospital is maternity 

grannie_kel
by on Jun. 23, 2014 at 7:44 PM

There really is no "safest" floor in a hospital especially now that they are drug testing and telling some new mommas and daddies that they aren't taking their baby home, you think that will be the safest floor?  What about the stillborn babies and the parents are so distraught that they think the doctor is to blame?  The crazies can get anywhere in a hospital.   

Quoting MeAndTommyLee:

The safest floor of the hospital is maternity 


D-Town
by Silver Member on Jun. 23, 2014 at 7:52 PM
1 mom liked this

actually it's the mental health floor. Any nurse or doctor can access the maternity ward. So to get in all you have to do is steal a badge. But even doctors and nurses have to have permission to enter the mental health floor. If they aren't assigned to that floor, they have to be buzzed in like anyone else. Maintenance workers have free and unrestricted access to L&D but not behavioral health. 

Quoting MeAndTommyLee:

The safest floor of the hospital is maternity 


___________________________________________________

“You are not entitled to your opinion. You are entitled to your informed opinion. No one is entitled to be ignorant.”

--- Harlan Ellison
canadianmom1974
by Gold Member on Jun. 23, 2014 at 8:16 PM
I'd say it's the mental health ward. Maternity is usually not locked, yes the babies have ankle alarms, but the ward is not locked. The mental health ward on the other hand is generally locked and everyone needs to be cleared to enter it, even staff.

Quoting MeAndTommyLee:

The safest floor of the hospital is maternity 

Posted on CafeMom Mobile
MeAndTommyLee
by Platinum Member on Jun. 23, 2014 at 8:38 PM

The hospital I had most of our children had some serious security.  My DH ran out to get us coffee and he couldn't get back in. Lol. Everytime I had a visitor, security called me and escorted them to our room. Now I have no idea how secure other hospitals are, but I quite safe.  

Quoting grannie_kel:

There really is no "safest" floor in a hospital especially now that they are drug testing and telling some new mommas and daddies that they aren't taking their baby home, you think that will be the safest floor?  What about the stillborn babies and the parents are so distraught that they think the doctor is to blame?  The crazies can get anywhere in a hospital.   

Quoting MeAndTommyLee:

The safest floor of the hospital is maternity 



MeAndTommyLee
by Platinum Member on Jun. 23, 2014 at 8:39 PM

I know my floor was locked, but things are different everywhere.  

Quoting canadianmom1974: I'd say it's the mental health ward. Maternity is usually not locked, yes the babies have ankle alarms, but the ward is not locked. The mental health ward on the other hand is generally locked and everyone needs to be cleared to enter it, even staff.
Quoting MeAndTommyLee:

The safest floor of the hospital is maternity 


grannie_kel
by on Jun. 23, 2014 at 9:02 PM

If their security was that tight it was because they have had some serious problems. 

Quoting MeAndTommyLee:

The hospital I had most of our children had some serious security.  My DH ran out to get us coffee and he couldn't get back in. Lol. Everytime I had a visitor, security called me and escorted them to our room. Now I have no idea how secure other hospitals are, but I quite safe.  

Quoting grannie_kel:

There really is no "safest" floor in a hospital especially now that they are drug testing and telling some new mommas and daddies that they aren't taking their baby home, you think that will be the safest floor?  What about the stillborn babies and the parents are so distraught that they think the doctor is to blame?  The crazies can get anywhere in a hospital.   

Quoting MeAndTommyLee:

The safest floor of the hospital is maternity 




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