With so much emphasis on patient safety in our hospitals today, this story got my attention. On February 12th, there was a disturbing article in The New York Times about gun violence in hospitals. More to the point, the article addressed the use of handguns and tasers on patients by hospital security personnel. Evidently this is a trend that is on the rise in hospitals across America.
“To protect their corridors, 52 percent of medical centers reported that their security personnel carried handguns and 47 percent said they used Tasers, according to a 2014 national survey. That was more than double estimates from studies just three years before. Institutions that prohibit them argue that such weapons — and security guards not adequately trained to work in medical settings — add a dangerous element in an already tense environment.” (Source: Elisabeth Rosenthal, “When the Hospital Fires the Bullet,” NY Times, February 12, 2016)
The question is: Do weapons in the hands of security personnel at hospitals protect patients and employees or put them at greater risk? And do they serve to antagonize patients who are already uncomfortable and under stress? Could it be that the real problem stems from security personnel, in some cases, not having the depth of training needed to successfully interact with heavily medicated individuals and people with serious behavioral health issues. This seems likely – particularly if hospitals are hiring armed off-duty police officers who are not used to working in a hospital setting.
Those of us who work in healthcare on a daily basis know that hospitals can be dangerous places and employees see all kinds of violent and threatening behavior. What is the solution? Should we arm security officers as they’ve done at the Cleveland Clinic? Or, like Massachusetts General Hospital, should we rely on more intense training, but still only arm security personnel with pepper spray (used 11 times in 10 years)? Mass General sends its security officers to the training program at the state police academy but does not allow them to carry handguns.
I believe this is an issue we will hear much more about in the months and years to come. What are your thoughts?