Hospitals on the defense: Robots, staff training help beef up security


Despite the high costs, hospitals across the country are making room in their budgets to prepare for security threats, according to a new survey.

Eighty-five percent of 255 hospital executives surveyed said their organizations use aggressive staff training to help both clinical and non-clinical employees deal with security threats, according to the 2016 Hospital Security Survey, compiled by Health Facilities Management and the American Society for Healthcare Engineering.

Three-quarters of the respondents said that it has been harder to maintain security in their facilities over the past two years. And part of the reason is tight budgets make it difficult to tackle security issues. Even still, 54 percent of those surveyed said their hospitals had increased their security budgets, but 69 percent said their hospitals would not hire new security personnel this year.

Tom Smith, president of Healthcare Security Consultants Inc., and former president of the International Association for Healthcare Security and Safety (IAHSS), told HFM that hospitals do have options to improve security without busting the budget.

“There are always things that can be done to improve security that don’t require additional resources,” Smith told the publication. “Many incidents are preventable if our staff, patients and visitors know how to report threats and unusual behaviors.”

Despite the high costs, some hospitals invest in new technologies to beef up security. For instance, Bakersfield Memorial Hospital in California is one of four in the Dignity Health network that now use a robot to help security guards monitor the hospital's emergency department parking lot, according to an article from The robot records security footage and also has a button that can summon its human security counterparts in an emergency.

"It's here for three reasons: safety, security and surveillance," Ken Keller, the hospital's chief operating officer, tells the publication. The robots free up time for human guards, Keller said, and soon it will be able to take commands in both English and Spanish.

Instead of robots, Pennsylvania's Washington Hospital, part of Washington Health System, is having its security staff undergo training to become certified police officers. Once they complete the training this fall, the hospital will have 12 full-time officers as well as a director of security, according to an article from the local newspaper, The Observer-Reporter. Gary B. Weinstein, the hospital's president and CEO, said the training involves firearms qualifications, classes on testifying in court, and criminal and constitutional law.

Weinstein said the training was "long overdue" because of recent violence across the country. “With our society today and incidents of violence at places like schools, movie theaters and malls, hospitals are certainly not exempt. Other hospitals are also taking this step," he told the newspaper. Though the security guards will be properly trained on using guns, opponents have argued that armed hospital guards may pose a greater risk to patients than potentially armed intruders, FierceHealthcare has previously reported.

The leaders surveyed by HFM also report an increase in violence at their facilities. They noted a 51 percent increase in patient or family violence against staff members in the emergency department, and a 44 percent increase in such violence against staff members in other parts of the hospital. 

To help healthcare organizations better respond to these security threats, The Joint Commission this week launched an online resource that includes guidelines, research, case studies, toolkits and other resources on violence prevention The tools cover a variety of different situations, including active shooters, behavioral threat management and bullying.

“Many of us in healthcare have witnessed or experienced workplace violence firsthand,” Ann Scott Blouin, R.N., Ph.D., executive vice president of customer relations for the the Joint Commission, said in an announcement. “As a result, it is critical that we share key resources with those in the healthcare community to help them prepare for and address, as well as hopefully prevent, this type of unfortunate situation from taking place.”