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Making clinics, hospitals, and medical centers safer

Emotions can run high when the care of a loved one gets caught in the dizzying array of process and procedure in a typical American hospital. Unfortunately, more and more we see individuals managing frustration with violence.

Rates of incidents in healthcare has risen Compared to other private sector workers the rate of assaults among health workers is four times higher, at a rate of 8 per 10,000 compared with 2 per 10,000 for all private-sector industries. Once revered, today many physicians are subjected to anger and scorn, and while occasionally mistakes are made, more often than not, results are simply the human body succumbing to illness or injury.

While many people believe concerns regarding violence are only relevant in high-crime areas, research reveals that is not the case. As Drs Gabor Kelen and Christina Catlett describe in their recent article “Violence in the Health Care Setting” for the Journal of the American Medical Association “health facility shootings have tended to be random, at smaller centers, and unrelated to local violence.”

Is a metal detector needed? Another common belief is that the best response is to install a metal detector. Again research reveals this does little to deter assailants and has no effect on preventing or reducing the rate of non-weapon related assaults. In fact, it may generate a false sense of security which can make staff less prepared in the event of an attack.

So what should staff do? Kelen and Catlett point out there are a number of measures medical locations can take to reduce risk such as improved external lighting, inspections, visitor searches, and use of strategically placed security personnel. In addition they state, “Perhaps most important is yearly institutional threat and security assessments and staff education.”

Practicing at Graham Hospital in Canton, IL Demonstrating this best practice of regular assessments, Graham Hospital in Canton, IL, along with the Canton Police Department, Fulton County Sheriff’s department, Fulton County Health Department, Galesburg Hospital & Ambulance Service, Fulton County Emergency Services & Disaster Agency, and the Canton Emergency Services & Disaster Agency recently participated in a drill simulating a hostage situation which locked down the local emergency room. Emergency notifications were dispatched via the hospital’s Everbridge system and patients and staff were re-routed to alternative locations. Following the drill, the groups reviewed the results and improved their process for the future. Such drills help keep all groups of potential respondents trained to minimize risk and optimize staff, patient, and visitor safety in a crisis.

On-going education at St. Francis Medical Center in Los Angeles, CA “We’ve learned a number of important lessons in recent years regarding security including keycarding public elevators to limit access to patient care areas” said Dr. Michael Stephen, Medical Director of Emergency Services at St. Francis Medical Center in Los Angeles. He agrees with Kelen and Catlett that well placed security provides visible deterrents and that education is a critical component to ensuring safety. “The biggest thing is awareness and education for staff and security personnel on behavior management. Training and security is more than just learning how to protect yourself and the patient physically, but to prevent the situation from reaching that point to begin with.” St. Francis provides its staff with on-going training to monitor tensions and support patients’ friends and family during their visit. Ultimately, that helps patients, family, and visitors manage their emotions in an often stressful environment.

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