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3 Ways to Boost Hospital Security

 |  By Lena J. Weiner  
   October 26, 2015

Hospitals are often microcosms of their communities, which can be violent. But there are things healthcare providers can do to keep workers, patients, and facilities safe.

So far, 2015 has proven to be a violent year, with more than 300 known mass shootings as of this writing. Since January 1, there have been shootings on college campuses, in movie theaters, and in churches.

It probably comes as no surprise, but hospitals are not immune from violence. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 63% of all nonfatal assaults and violent acts in the workplace occur within the healthcare and social assistance industry.

Everyone in a hospital needs to be prepared for the worst, says Jason Berenstein, director of hospital security at Oakland Regional Hospital in Southfield, MI. "Unfortunately, it's a sign of the times. We have to train hospital staff to be ready for anything," he says.

Jason Berenstein

"Hospitals are the only place that is open twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week for anyone who needs care," says Gail Blanchard-Saiger, vice president of labor and employment with the California Hospital Association. They are often microcosms of their communities, creating unique challenges for hospital security and law enforcement, she says.

"It's a challenge. One size does not fit all."

But there are things hospitals can do to keep workers, patients, and facilities safe.

1. Maintain Balance
"It's a balancing act," between the need to keep patients and staff safe and maintaining an environment that is conducive to healing and where workers feel comfortable says Blanchard-Saiger.

Look at your hospital objectively and decide which areas truly need safety enhancements. Are the walkways well lit? Does the parking area need new security cameras? Ask your hospital security team to walk through the hospital and, with a critical eye, pinpoint potential security risks and draw up a plan to remedy them. Consider the impact of safety enhancements on how staff, patients, and visitors will move through the facility.

2. Take a Proactive Approach
The adage is that "many hospitals are more reactive than proactive, but being more proactive will help prevent further liability, loss of life, or injuries," says Berenstein. "It's much better if you have policies and procedures in place before an incident happens than if you have to decide what to do as it's happening, or afterward."

Blanchard-Saiger has a similar suggestion. "Assess your entire organization. Take a look at what's working and what’s not."

Gail Blanchard-Saiger

Don't wait for incidents to happen—start training for them today.

Berenstein makes it a point to train hospital staff in how to handle workplace violence. He ensures that there's an action plan in place for active shooters and stages real-time drills that allow hospital workers to role-play in scenarios that would be dangerous and frightening in real life.

Some workers say this prepares them for violence outside the workplace as well, says Berenstein.

"This training allows workers to be prepared anywhere. They become well versed through many different situations. The staff feels safer knowing what to do after having been trained."

Employees should be trained to monitor the hospital for anything that seems out of place or odd. When in doubt, they should use the "see something, say something" approach, says Berenstein. "When employees are proactive and say something immediately, 99% of the time, the problems are resolved and the situation corrected."

3. Reach Out to Law Enforcement

It is always desirable to attempt to cultivate a good relationship with local law enforcement. While this is not always possible, "reaching out to local law enforcement can create a variety of benefits," says Blanchard-Saiger.

While some communities find the relationship with local law enforcement to be challenging, they are also stakeholders hospitals should try to engage. A positive relationship with law enforcement will encourage a stronger police presence near the hospital, faster response times, increased sharing of information, and increased trust between the two organizations.

Berenstein says the local chief of police visits his hospital once a month. "If I don't get local law enforcement involved, I'm setting the hospital up for failure."

The most important thing to remember, he says, is to make sure hospital workers know that they have the ability to keep their environment safe. "Empower your employees. Once the hospital staff is trained, knows their training and practices it, it just makes for a safer organization.

Lena J. Weiner is an associate editor at HealthLeaders Media.

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