80% of serious violent incidents reported in healthcare settings were caused by interactions with patients
Per OSHA, 75% of all workplace assaults take place in a healthcare setting
50% of all nurses surveyed reported being bullied or assaulted by a patient or a patient’s family.
Brian Levy, SOV Security
The sad fact is that hospitals are getting more dangerous by the year. According to OSHA, working in a healthcare environment is four times more dangerous than private industry and the largest source for workplace violence comes from the patients and their stressed-out family members. The situation is possibly worse than what the statistics show, since some kinds of workplace threats are not reported. Verbal violence like abuse, threats, and harassment are largely ignored by healthcare workers. Some caregivers will put their own safety and health at risk and not report the episode since they feel that they must “do no harm” to patients. What this means is that the already difficult job of medical professional is now harder and more dangerous than ever.
As a security provider who spends a lot of time in hospitals, I have seen firsthand what happens when patients get out of control and start fighting with staff. Healthcare workers can become traumatized and as a result stop coming to work. These incidents make the hospital staff feel unprotected and stressed out, which can lead to greater fatigue and burn-out and as a result, more sick-days and people leaving the profession. No one wants to be a victim and the most unfortunate fact is that in many cases, the violence could have been stopped.
In truth, workplace violence doesn’t have to be widespread. It can be minimized by employing federally mandated strategies like a safety plan, staff training, and physical and electronic site security. As I visit hospitals across Southern California, I have found that very few of them have up-to-date electronic security which includes important safety tools like panic alarm systems, proximity door access control, and surveillance cameras. Sometimes, a hospital might be well equipped with cameras, but lacks a comprehensive door access control system and panic alarms. In other hospitals, cameras record activity throughout the facility, but no one watches the cameras in order to proactively stop violence against staff and patients.
In many cases, a hospital’s security department is not always a high budgetary priority, so their electronic security may not be properly maintained or updated. Even if it used by the staff, only a small portion of its total feature set is employed and many of the more powerful security features are never used. In many cases, a large percentage of cameras are broken, as are panic buttons and access control door readers are failing. What this adds up to is a dangerous situation made worse because the security staff does not have real-time visibility over the hospital’s campus. Many cameras may have malfunctioned, leaving large blank spots throughout the hospital. When employees hit panic alarms that have not been maintained they may not work when they are needed most. When a situation occurs, the guards on duty are sometimes the last ones to know leaving countless employees and patients in trouble.
According to the Join Commission, the largest hospital accreditation agency, hospitals must create a strong safety culture to assure patient and worker safety. In order to develop a safety culture, healthcare organizations need to create an Emergency Operations Plan which describes how the hospital will prepare for emergencies like active shooters and hospital violence. Having a strong electronic security foundation, meaning surveillance cameras, panic buttons, and door access control is an essential tool which can make the difference in protecting the lives of patients and workers.
For instance, if an active shooter situation is occurring, then hospital guards can put a hospital into an instant security lockdown by utilizing the door access control system which will immediately lock every door in the hospital. Via the access control software, hospital security staff can open and lock doors as needed to help patients and staff while impeding the movement of the shooter. The Hospital staff can track the suspect via the surveillance camera system and coordinate with law enforcement and on-site guard staff, and as a result patients and employees can escape. In addition, panic buttons positioned throughout a healthcare facility can summon security personnel before an agitated patient becomes violent.
Unfortunately, these security tools are sometimes ignored, and years go by without maintenance and care. It is easy for a hospital administration to overlook these powerful life saving tools when there are so many other priorities competing for attention. The statistics are a wake-up call, however, that electronic security needs to be placed towards the top of the “must have” list. Security Directors and C-level executives should engage their security vendors for security strategies and ideas to improve and maintain their existing electronic systems. With this type of collaboration, hospitals can better leverage the powerful security tools at their disposal and protect their staff and patients. It is not a question of if violence will occur, but rather, when. Ultimately, it’s up to the hospital administration to be ready the next time the shoe drops and someone gets hurt. Violence unfortunately is not going away; if anything, it’s getting worse. Preparation is the key.