Hospital Security 2.0

Some things are so basic that you do them without thinking. For instance, I hope I never leave my home in the morning without zipping up my pants. Well, the same goes for locking the back door. I keep the doors locked.

The same should apply to a hospital setting—security should be automatic. Hospital security presents a unique challenge because a variety of people make up the work setting. There are numerous rooms and spaces, costly equipment, all kinds of drugs and many entrances.

Well-planned security is a must because hospitals offer ease-of-movement within each campus. This type of facility has to plan for different approaches to security, many times based on cost, legal compliance and litigation prevention.

No matter what the desired security application, it must begin with the basics. In other words, there are places that need to be zipped up and kept secure from the public. Due to new threats and vulnerabilities facing hospitals today, I like to refer to it as hospital security 2.0.

In mid-March, Jennifer Latham of Sanford, Fla., wanted to have a baby. Latham apparently couldn’t have children of her own, so she went shopping at the Central Florida Regional Hospital, also in Sanford.

Latham piggybacked her way through an entrance by following a maintenance worker through what should have been a secure door. The worker failed to check behind him, and Latham entered. This is where the trouble began.

Latham abducted a 1-day-old baby boy from the hospital and escaped. Luckily, once the baby was taken from the nursery, nursing staff sounded a Code Pink alert. Problem was, hospital staff failed to give a description of the infant and where the incident occurred. Investigators quickly determined that the hospital did not have proper rules in place, telling employees that they should check behind them when entering through a locked door. Investigators also found that the hospital’s alarm system and trigger on the secure door failed, or at least was not working the day investigators visited.

Gratefully, the infant was found with his abductor at a rest stop along Interstate 4. Police were able to identify the woman because they had a description of her car.

Hospital officials aren’t saying much, but in a prepared statement healthcare staff noted, “The hospital has retained the services of a leading healthcare security expert to conduct an independent review and assessment of the hospital’s security program. Following the review, we will develop a plan.”

An internal review also is under way at the hospital, though officials said their staff responded quickly. In fact, the maternity ward now has a security guard 24/7 and is probably the most secure facility around. Well, it should be.

The central Florida hospital, like any other facility, must analyze its security for all departments, examining the business culture of the facility and determining the threat levels to individual departments. Department heads should be interviewed to determine threats, then plan countermeasures for each department.

In this hospital’s case, the first investment into security would entail low-tech options. This might have been enough to prevent the abduction. This includes locks and barriers, but also good lighting for improved visibility.

Beyond the basics, high-tech products should include alarm systems, access control, photo identification, cameras, voice communications and a weapons screening system. New products available that are worth investigating include patient locators, video pursuit software, delayed egress hardware and digital video.

These products work, and hospital security directors and executive management must consider their implementation. On July 15, 2005, the Hugs infant protection system thwarted an attempted abduction in North Carolina. Here’s how it worked. An audible alarm sounded when the infant was taken from the hospital nursery. The system is an RFID-enabled device that sounds an alarm when it leaves the programmed range. Police immediately arrested the kidnappers, which in this case happened to be the mother and father of the 4-day-old boy. It took them less than a minute to grab the baby, put him in a duffel bag and run from the hospital.

Sounds fishy, doesn’t it? Turns out the couple’s other children had been taken into custody by the North Carolina Department of Social Services pending a child abuse investigation. The parents believed their new baby also would be taken and made a frantic attempt to steal their own baby.

Hospitals, much like churches, have always been considered sacred, but as crime grows in the country, we now find that we’re not particularly safe at home, at work and even in the hospital. Because of the actions of a few, hospitals have less public access than ever before. Fire doors to the outside are now looked upon by criminals as escape exits. Older hospitals bring their own set of problems—due to the open design, they are difficult to secure. Retrofitting security solutions at older facilities might be an expensive nightmare, but it’s necessary.

How secure is your hospital facility? What security measures are in place for patients, staff and visitors? A renewed commitment by hospital administration to the security process will define the ultimate success.

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