There were two shootings at hospitals in the U.S. on the same day this month, leaving some wondering if organizations are putting enough financial support behind their security efforts.
Security has always been a priority for healthcare leaders but in the wake of the mass shooting at a Tulsa, Oklahoma, hospital that left four people dead, and a second hospital shooting that occurred on the same day in Dayton, Ohio, executives realize there are gaps in their safety strategies that must be addressed.
Increasing security measures at hospitals can come with significant financial and logistical challenges, but there are actionable steps and investments healthcare leaders can take to ensure the safety of the staff and patients within their organizations.
Mass shootings are common in the United States, with 233 such events taking place in the first six months of 2022, according to data from the Gun Violence Archive. Hospitals, however, have not always been primary targets for active shooters. There were 28 active shooter incidents in 2019, according to FBI data collected by the American Hospital Association, but only two of those took place at healthcare facilities.
"The mass shootings in Uvalde, Texas, and Buffalo, New York, have traumatized many Americans and reinforced the need for action on what is clearly a public health crisis," Northwell Health CEO Michael Dowling said in a statement. "As the CEO of New York's largest healthcare provider and private employer, I've long maintained that healthcare professionals are uniquely positioned to rise above the political fray by addressing the nation's gun violence epidemic through a public health lens."
The recent shootings have raised concerns about hospitals and other healthcare organizations becoming soft targets—much in the same way schools have—especially when considering that the Tulsa shooter was allegedly motivated by anger with his doctor because of his back pain, which he claimed was not alleviated following surgery.
"Workers who dedicate themselves to saving lives deserve a safe environment—free of violence and intimidation—in which to deliver care," Rick Pollack, president, and CEO of the American Hospital Association said in a press release. "The surge in assaults against the healthcare workforce cannot continue and we must do everything we can to protect them. Our workforce is enduring historic levels of stress and violence as they continue to provide compassionate, quality care throughout the pandemic. We will not let up in ensuring that all hospital and health system workers feel safe in the vital work they perform."
Northwell Health's vice president of corporate security recently said in an interview with News12 Long Island that the organization drills "constantly" to be prepared for and prevent an active shooter or another violent incident. All visitors to the system's 23 New York City–area hospitals must sign in with a government I.D., which is checked against a patient database, and utilize a visitor I.D. card to go through turnstiles within the building. Other safety measures Northwell has invested in include armed guards with posts throughout the hospitals and enhanced employee training on safety and identifying potentially dangerous individuals.
The costs of security investments will vary depending on location, budget allocation, and the types of measures organizations want to take. On average, incidences of hospital security breaches, whether they are physical or digital, can cost hospitals $810,000 per incident, per year, according to research from MeriTalk.
"There definitely needs to be investments made in the protection component of the healthcare program," says Brine Hamilton, CHPA, president of the International Association for Healthcare Security and Safety. "It is going to look different at every facility, but it is going to involve things like threat assessment, understanding your weak points, leveraging technology, and training your staff."
There are organizations that hospitals can use as resources to determine where their security efforts need to be improved and the best ways to train staff for an active shooter or other incidents of violence. Training is where hospitals will want to make their biggest investments, Hamilton says. Hospitals need to invest in programs that train every employee within the organization on how to be prepared for any emergency, both natural and manmade.
Another option for hospitals to pursue, that won't have a financial impact on the organization, is to make connections with the law enforcement agencies within their communities. Through these relationships, hospitals and law enforcement can collaborate on ways to make organizations safer and come up with response plans and contingencies for when a violent incident takes place at the facility.
"One of the unique challenges with a healthcare facility versus any other type of facility that is used by the general public is that people from all walks of life will at some point need access to that facility," Hamilton says. "That is everyone in our general public and that includes individuals who may have bad intentions."
When it comes to securing hospitals as people enter, Hamilton says investments in specific technology can go a long way in keeping people safe. Visitor management technology are customizable tools that can help hospital security know who is coming in and out of the building, centralize visitor information, and screen visitors against watchlists so security is aware of any potential threats. Metal detectors at each entrance are another option for hospitals, as well as more subtle gun detection solutions.
"There's not going to be any one silver bullet that's going to prevent these events from happening," Hamilton says. "But by taking the measures you're at least improving your odds of being able to prevent these incidents or address them quickly."
Amanda Schiavo is the Finance Editor for HealthLeaders.
Hospitals must reexamine their budgets and make greater investments in hospital security
There are low-to-no cost options healthcare executives can use to make hospitals safer by engaging with their communities
On average, incidences of hospital security breaches, whether they are physical or digital, can cost hospitals $810,000 per incident, per year