Armed hospital guards may hurt, not help violence prevention

Spurred by a recent spike in the number of violent incidents against hospital staff and a rise in the number of hospital shootings, more and more U.S. hospitals are issuing weapons to security guards. 

However, as the New York Times reported, this has touched off a contentious debate as to whether guns in hospitals pose more of a threat to patients and visitors than the risk of armed intruders. 

The Times cites the case of Alan Pean, who was admitted to Houston's St. Joseph Medical Center last August during a possible bipolar episode. Pean was kept in a room overnight without ever seeing a psychiatrist as he became increasingly delusional.

A scuffle with nurses ended with two armed security guards--both of whom were off-duty Houston Police moonlighting as hospital security--shocking Pean with a Taser and firing a bullet into his chest. Pean survived, but was deeply traumatized by the event. The bullet missed his heart by mere millimeters, according to the article.

"I thought of the hospital as a beacon, a safe haven," he told the Times. "I can't quite believe that I ended up shot."

Patients struggling with bipolar disorder and other mental health issues have been gunned down by security guards in Ohio and Virginia, according to the article, while patients were shocked to death with Tasers in Utah and Ohio. 

Hospitals are not required to report all incidents of violence, so statistics are somewhat murky on the issue, but a survey published in 2015 by the International Association for Healthcare Security and Safety found that between 2012 and 2014, hospitals and healthcare institutions reported a 40 percent increase in violent incidents, more than 10,000 of which were directed at healthcare employees.

Hospital administrators are divided on how to handle the issue, however. Not only do Tasers and guns set exactly the wrong tone in healthcare settings, uniforms, too, could make patients anxious, Antonio D. Martin, executive vice president of security in New York City's public hospital system told the Times.

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