Hospital security strategies

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


Triage staff members, in particular, are usually the target of verbal abuse - particularly by patient family members. In response to that potential event, each triage station should be provided with a duress device or personal alarms that summons the security officer. Proper deployment of video cameras in the ER should ensure that these stations are also within camera view. The ER pedestrian and ambulance entrances, the waiting room and the psychiatric observation rooms are areas where cameras should also be deployed.

Since emergency rooms in hospitals operate around the clock, most institutions will provide continuous security personnel presence in the area. The officer is normally positioned at a fixed post that has sub components of the facility's security system which provide the ability to monitor ER alarms, view all ER cameras and remotely control the operation of doors in the immediate area.

Using card access-controlled doors between the waiting room and the ER treatment area can be very useful in limiting patient visitors and eliminating unwanted and distracting pedestrian activity between the two areas. Card access control may also be applied at the ambulance and pedestrian entrances as well as entrances leading into the ER treatment area from other areas of the building.

During certain periods - typically on weekends - some hospitals will deploy magnetometers to scan individuals who seek treatment in their ER.

Common Areas of Security Concern

Access Control: The application of access control can be one of the most important elements of a hospital's security solution. Access control refers to managing who is allowed to enter where and when, including limiting access to people, places, and things and - via an audit trail - having the ability to track and monitor individuals and assets. According to the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (JCAHO), one element of performance by which a hospital's environment of care is measured is that "the hospital controls access to and egress from security-sensitive areas, as determined by the hospital."

A high level of security is required for areas such as operating theatres and diagnostic suites, to ensure entry by authorized staff members only. Card access control devices for these critical areas need to be reliable, fast, hands-free and easy to use.

Material Storage: A primary problem with loading dock and material storage security is that most hospitals lack permanent security supervision in these areas. Add to this the sometimes relaxed attitude of the shipping and receiving operation by leaving doors open or the area unattended, and many hospitals are left dangerously vulnerable to theft.

Proper loading dock security starts with comprehensive policies and procedures for shipping and receiving operations. Card access control on doors, asset management systems, inventory management systems, intelligent video management and advanced integration of these should help in limiting the losses.

To minimize pilferage of foodstuff, dietary services departments should use card access control combined with video cameras in their food storage rooms as well as walk-in refrigerators and freezers.

Compliance: To maintain compliancy with HIPAA regulations, some healthcare organizations are combining smart card technology with biometrics for access to patient and employee records as well as pharmacy access control.

Infant Protection: A hospital administrator's biggest concern is the fear of litigation and a potential incident that would damage the institution's image. The abduction of an infant from the hospital's maternity ward would probably lead to both. To prevent such an incident, many hospitals that provide birthing centers with maternity and pediatric wards have installed infant monitoring systems.

An infant protection system is comprised of a small, tamper-proof tag that is placed on the infant's ankle or wrist immediately after birth. Should an infant be carried toward an exit door, the system will automatically set off an alarm with video at the local nurse's station and at the central security room, activate door locks including stairwell exit doors and hold selected elevators. These systems will integrate with access control systems, video cameras located at the various doors, public address systems, pagers, fire systems and other security alarms. Some systems also have the ability to automatically confirm that the right baby is with the right mother by providing an audible signal when the infants and mothers are correctly matched.