How much hospital security is too much?

With workplace violence becoming an ever more common threat in the healthcare industry, recent incidents have led hospital leaders to question whether their security plans are strong enough--or if some measures might go too far.

A 20-year-old man was arrested following a Monday shooting that wounded a male nurse practitioner at the Exodus Mental Health Urgent Care Center in California, the Los Angeles Daily News reported. The shooting occurred in the midst of a scuffle between the clinician and the patient during the intake process, according to the newspaper, and the victim's injuries were not life-threatening.

Also in Los Angeles, a jury this week ordered Pacifica Hospital of the Valley to pay $3 million to the father of a man whose son was stabbed to death by a fellow psychiatric patient back in 2012, according to the L.A. Times. In a previous case in which the hospital had to pay damages for wrongful death and elder abuse, "throughout the entire case, there was a pattern of conduct that the jury felt showed that the hospital had not done what it should have for its patients," the victim's attorney told the newspaper.

Just how much security is enough is an issue Boston hospitals continue to grapple with after the recent fatal shooting of a cardiac surgeon at Brigham and Women's Hospital, which also claimed the life of the shooter. The hospital was well-prepared for an active shooter situation, thanks in part to preparations made after the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, FierceHealthcare previously reported.

A November study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, which is just now receiving media attention, indicates that not only could hospital-based prevention efforts aimed at violence outside facilities' walls save lives, but also reduce costs for health and criminal justice systems. And "even if the intervention cost a little more than it saved in dollars and cents to the healthcare system, there would still be a net benefit in terms of the violence it prevented," Jonathan Purtle, Ph.D., one of the study authors, said in statement.

In terms of internal hospital security, some feel that such robust preparedness plans are enough, and that adding extra security measures such as metal detectors or even a hospital-specific police force would send the wrong message to patients, the Boston Business Journal reported.

"There's a balance. Hospitals are community resources and open 24/7. You want them to be places people feel comfortable to go and you want them to be open and accessible," John Erwin, executive director for the Conference of Boston Teaching Hospitals, told the publication. "I think hospitals feel they can reach that balance without metal detectors."

Indeed, despite Monday's violent incident, the Exodus urgent care center does not provide its guards with weapons and doesn't plan to, according to the L.A. Daily News. It also doesn't use metal detectors because the agency wants the facility to feel "warm and homelike," the article states.

To learn more:
- check out the L.A. Daily News report
- read the L.A. Times article
- read the Boston Business Journal piece
- access the study (pdf)
- read the study announcement