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Patients Stealing $52M Worth of Items from Hospitals, Says Survey

 |  By John Commins  
   February 10, 2010

Hospital patients, their families, and visitors may be stealing about $52 million in property each year from hospital rooms, including towels, linens, TV remotes, surgical scrubs, and even telephones, according to figures extrapolated from a recent survey.

The survey, conducted by the Irving, TX-based healthcare supply chain network VHA Inc., found that 64% of the nearly 100 hospitals that responded reported that patients and/or their families and visitors pilfered hospital property.

Nearly 30 hospitals in the survey reported that the losses amounted to less than $15,000. While the sum is hardly a bank breaker for most hospitals, VHA Implementation Manager Jack Parker says it's another "headache" for hospitals and takes money away from investments in clinical and operational improvements.

"It's not a huge amount for each hospital, but you multiply $15,000 times a few thousand hospitals and it becomes a lot of money," Parker says. "I've been in hospitals where they have stolen the telephones right out of patients' rooms, or walked out with a TV, saying they were the repairman. They can't even use the telephones because they're not made to work in the home."

"Unfortunately, the nurses are very busy and they can't be police. And we don't expect them to be police. But patients need to understand that hospitals are not hotels and do not factor room supplies into the cost of healthcare," he says.

Parker says there is no indication that thefts are on the increase because of the rough economy, but he adds it's a bigger issue for hospitals that are searching to reduce costs. "It's just one of those things that have always gone on, and it's one of those things where when you work in an industry whose margin is less than 2%, you have to look at every dollar," he says. "That $15,000 has to come out of your budget somewhere."

Parker recommends not overstocking patient rooms to minimize the impact of the thefts. "When people go to a hotel and there are three or four bottles of shampoo, people will take them, thinking they paid for them," he says. "Bed linens, water pitchers, are things that aren't charged to a patient. It's overhead for the hospital. So anything you can do to put less in the room, as long as the patients' needs are met, is what you need to do.

Parker says his cost estimates don't include theft of hospital equipment by employees. He estimates that the theft of surgical scrub suits, for example, is an even bigger issue that patient thefts.

"That is thousands of dollars, maybe tens of thousands of dollars. If I had to point to the one thing that was taken the most in hospitals, it's scrubs, and 99% of it is employees," he says.

John Commins is a content specialist and online news editor for HealthLeaders, a Simplify Compliance brand.

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