Hospital Safety: A Growing Threat

Monday, February 4th, 2019

Hospitals are places where we care for the sick and the vulnerable.  Most of our children are born there.  The elderly and the injured are taken there for care. Highly trained doctors, nurses, and technicians see to the healing and the comfort of the most vulnerable people in our society.  When a loved one is injured or ill, we go to the hospital to visit.  We bring flowers and magazines.  Sometimes we sneak some ice cream or a chocolate bar past the nurse’s station.  Security is minimal.  Everyone is there for a reason.  Patients are there to be healed.  Nurses and doctors are there to do the healing, and visitors are there to cheer the patients.  Hospitals exist to heal.

No one ever goes to a hospital expecting to be a victim of violence.  Tragically, however, shootings, stabbings, armed robberies, and physical violence in hospitals, particularly hospital emergency rooms, are on the rise.  Hospital administrators, already tasked with the difficult job of cutting costs while improving care, are faced with a dilemma.  How can they keep hospitals and hospital campuses safe? How can they keep their patients and their staff safe without turning the entire campus into a prison or spending money intended to make people well on security intended to keep violent criminals out?

         At most hospitals, people come and go all day every day and all through the night. Strangers with no prior authorization pass through doors, ride elevators, eat in the cafeteria, shop in the gift store, and visit patients on every floor.  Very few visitors have an appointment. It is virtually impossible to control the ebb and flow of total strangers through the many doors around a hospital.  Few doors are locked, staff members are unarmed, no one is ever turned away at the Emergency Room door.  And everyone’s attention is focused on the injured and the sick.

        Emergency rooms are emotional places.  Tensions are high.  Patients are scared and in pain.  Even known killers are admitted to emergency rooms to receive the best care possible when they are hurt.  Family members wait anxiously in open rooms for word of a loved one.  At all hours of the day, the doors to the ER are unlocked, ready to slide open and welcome those in need.  Of course, they also welcome drug addicts, violent criminals, armed robbers, even gang members.  If a patient needs care, care is given.

        Sadly, not everyone who visits a hospital – particularly the ER is there to receive care or to comfort a loved one.  Clinics and pharmacies have been robbed at gunpoint. Assaults and shootings are on the rise in ER’s across America.  At Mercy Hospital in Chicago, a physician, a police officer, and a pharmacy technician were killed by an active shooter.  In Baltimore, Maryland’s Johns Hopkins Hospital, a 69-year-old patient with a gun shot himself inside an ER bathroom.    A doctor at Bronx-Lebanon Hospital in New York City who resigned during a sexual-harassment scandal shot and killed a physician and wounded six others before turning the gun on himself.

Dozens of violent incidents occur in US hospitals every year.  Gang members bring their violence with them to the ER.  Families in distress, victims of domestic violence, disgruntled employees, angry, heartbroken family members, even hospital staff members lash out with violence and aggression toward staff, patients, police and security.  From Florida to California, Texas to New Hampshire, and across nearly every state, patients, staff, and visitors are at increased risk.

But hospitals cannot simply close their doors, barring families from visiting, screening patients in the ER prior to admittance.  Hospitals don’t function that way.  Nor should they.  Patient care must be their first concern. In times of emergency, every single staff member may be involved, focused on getting treatment to patients.  People rush to help, to triage, to care.  That cannot stop because of a few bad actors.  On the other hand, hospitals cannot allow themselves to become dangerous places – places where no one wants to work, where no one dares to seek care. If they did, they would cease being places of healing.  They would, in fact, simply cease to be.

Nor can caregivers abandon their patients to hide in safe zones or run from the building.  A surgeon must continue to operate regardless of what is going on outside the operating theater.  A mother giving birth cannot stop and hide or run from the building because there is an active shooter on the floor. Hospitals are unique spaces where life-saving work is taking place at every moment – work that cannot be interrupted.

In recent years, hospitals have invested more and more time and money into training for active shooter scenarios, for armed robberies, for angry, violent men and women who snap and act out.  From the admitting nurse, to the heart surgeon, to the pediatricians and obstetricians in the nursery, hospital staff are spending their valuable time preparing for the worst.  Those costs, of course, are passed on to patients through higher fees and, ultimately, higher insurance premiums. Everyone is affected.  No one feels safe.

And for local police, hospitals can be nightmare locations. They are labyrinths of rooms, corridors, storage areas, open spaces, lounge spaces, public spaces, and private spaces.  And they cannot effectively be locked down.  People in hospitals must go about their business or others will die.  Visitors and ambulatory patients move throughout campus buildings all day and into the night.  Babies will not wait to be born, broken legs will not wait to be set.  People must receive the treatment they’ve come to the hospital for immediately, regardless of law-enforcement’s need to secure the buildings.

         Moreover, hospital electronic equipment often interferes with police radios.  At a large facility there may be dozens of entrances and exits.  There are cars in motion in the parking lots and along the hospital driveways, ambulances and helicopters arriving and departing, and people with no clearance moving from building to building through unsecured doors and corridors.  Communication and information are vital if law-enforcement agents are to respond to a violent situation.  However, on a large hospital campus, police have no eyes or ears that cover the entire campus.

        The mandate is clear.  We must find affordable ways to keep our hospitals and emergency rooms safe, accessible, and open to everyone.  There must be a way to spot trouble before it happens, and to provide law-enforcement with campus-wide eyes and ears so that they can respond quickly and efficiently to any situation anywhere on the hospital grounds or in the hospital buildings.

        That work has already begun.  Using leading edge technology, Athena Security Cameras can identify trouble before it happens, report issues to law-enforcement, and inform the criminal that he or she has been seen and the activity reported.  These innovative tools employ artificial intelligence and motion sensor technology to quickly and efficiently recognize a threat – an aggressive motion, the raising of a gun or blade, then stream that information in real time to security and law-enforcement providing immediate eyes on the situation.

       Unlike monitored security cameras, Athena cameras do not rely on a viewer to catch an action and call it in.  Those types of systems are susceptible to human error, distractions, and oversights. A typical security guard can effectively monitor a single screen for about forty minutes without looking away. After that, more and more of what is happening live is missed by the guard.  And that’s just one single guard watching a single camera.    Athena cameras monitor themselves and signal the second a threat is detected. Once Athena detects a threat, it sends critical information in real time to a monitoring service.  That service validates the threat and involves law enforcement when needed. Athena’s AI-powered technology analyses multiple data points to detect crimes faster and more accurately than systems that rely solely on humans.

       Law enforcement cannot act without accurate intel.  A single security guard monitoring one or two cameras cannot always provide that.  Moreover, the guard himself may end up at risk or may be called to aid victims.   With Athena Security Cameras,the police needn’t wait for a copy of hours-old footage after the crime has been committed.  They will be able to view the situation in real time, see who is on site, the condition of any victims, and the weapons the perpetrator is carrying.  And, of course, police can pinpoint exactly where in the building or on a campus the perpetrator is.

      Facial recognition software may even aid law enforcement in identifying exactly who the perpetrator is and what his or her history is.  Moreover, Athena focuses on leading edge software, allowing users to integrate with existing security systems.

     Hospitals can be scary places when you’re sick or hurt. You wonder if they’ll be able to make you whole again.  Having to take your child to the hospital can make your hair go white.  Will she be okay?  Can they fix what’s broken?  Is it a tumor?  Will they ease his pain?  But we go there because we know that they are places of healing, that the people there will do everything in their power to make us and our loved ones well again.

    We never expect that we are walking into an active shooter situation, into a gun fight or a knife fight.  We don’t go to the hospital expecting to be the victim of gang violence. However, increasingly, that is the case. We can fix it.  We can start today.