Hospital security strategies

From the front door to the loading dock, healthcare security measures should be visible and abundant

A soaring three-floor atrium, with two walls of windows that flood the area with natural light provides a soothing transition from the outside. Comfortable, carpeted waiting areas flank the two walls of windows. With abundant plants and plush set-tees and chairs, the area has the welcoming ambiance of a hotel lobby. In fact, this newly renovated lobby is part of a large suburban hospital complex that was designed to welcome visitors and provide patients a feeling of reassurance and well being. As part of an effort to be more competitive, some hospital administrators are trying to break the typical stereotype of the dark, gloomy, smelly hospital by creating a more open and inviting environment for their patients, employees and visitors.

In order to keep up with those trends, hospital security strategies have been changing as well. Security officers dressed in formal police attire and stationed at various posts within this environment may look out of place. Dressed in "concierge" type blazers, the security officers have become public relations representatives of the organization since they are frequently the first contact a patient or visitor has with a hospital. In addition to their normal duties of monitoring and controlling visitors, the officers are often required to be a source of information, directing visitors and patients to their destinations.

Hospital facilities are usually comprised of a number of buildings with many entrances, rooms, areas with high-value equipment, supplies, drugs and a variety of people - patients, visitors, staff and vendors - with a need to move about freely. Controlling this environment from a security perspective requires knowledge of current and future physical and logical access needs, coupled with an understanding of the standards and regulations facing today's health care practitioners. As part of physical security, health care security practitioners are implementing the latest state-of-the-art security systems for access control, video monitoring and communication, which will also improve their staff's productivity.

Points of Entry

Visitor control in this type of environment for the hospital security practitioner is one of their most difficult tasks.

As part of controlling patient visitors, some hospitals have implemented a visitor management system which enables security officials to track who is in the building and ensures visitors are only allowed access to certain areas of the hospital. Hospital security staff and/or volunteers can scan the visitor's driver's license. The visitor's information is automatically entered into a database and a visitor pass is printed on a label, which is then worn by the visitor for the duration of their visit. The system can also be integrated onto the hospital's network for continual update with the patient data system to verify that the patient is registered. Some children's hospitals have implemented a feature that checks a visitor's name against the national sex offender registry.

Video cameras should be located in the immediate lobby areas and typically include the gift shop. They provide the security officer the ability to view and assess a potential security issue on video monitors or video workstations that may be located at the concierge/security post. All video cameras throughout the hospital facility should be recorded at all times.

Respective community crime factors and quality-of-life issues are mirrored within each hospital environment and are most evident in the ER (emergency room) waiting area of urban and inner-city health care institutions. It is not uncommon for ER staff members to be subjected to verbal and sometimes physical abuse that may arise from domestic conflicts, child custody disputes, gang violence, drug users and psychiatric patients.

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