More than 5,000 hospitals provide health care to more than a million Americans each day; therefore, it is crucial that Congress ensure that hospitals have the resources needed to enhance security and protect against the threat of violent crime and terrorist attack. Hospitals are no less vulnerable to such incidents than are port facilities, public transit systems and other components of our nation’s critical infrastructure that receive substantial federal grant dollars for physical and electronic security needs.
Through its work with security professionals at countless hospitals and healthcare facilities, Security Industry Association (SIA) members understand the challenges hospitals face in acquiring additional resources to protect their environments. This is why SIA has developed a legislative proposal that would strengthen the security budgets of thousands of hospitals across the nation.
The “Securing America’s Hospitals Act of 2009” would authorize a new federal grant program for hospitals to use to fund physical and electronic security improvements. This legislation is modeled on the Port Security Grant Program that was codified under the SAFE Port Act and the Public Transportation Security Assistance grant program established by Congress in 2007.
Under this program, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) would oversee the distribution of funds to be used for the acquisition, installation or use of security technology — including access control systems, identification credentials, bomb detection devices, video surveillance cameras, locking devices and mass annunciation systems. Grant awards would be limited to $100,000 annually so that a maximum number of hospitals, regardless of geographic location or bed size, could receive assistance. The federal share of each award would be contingent on the size of the project.
Congressional leaders, though, are not certain which federal agency should manage the program, and this has contributed to the delay in consideration of the proposal. Some members of Congress and healthcare stakeholders have suggested that the program should be administered by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), as it manages similar grant programs for port and transit systems. Other interested parties feel that the program is best administered by HHS, since it is more familiar with the unique challenges faced by hospitals and healthcare facilities.
Given the current economic and political climate, congressional leaders may be reluctant to create a new federally-funded program. As SIA continues to work to promote the introduction and passage of the Securing America’s Hospitals Act, we are trying to locate additional sources of funding in existing grant programs.
The International Association of Healthcare Security and Safety (IAHSS), a leading voice for healthcare provider security professionals, has explained why the additional funding is needed: “Above and beyond the daily incidents that challenge healthcare, many facilities do not have the resources to appropriately protect their environment,” the association notes. “Whether due to a lack of mandated security regulations or the unique cost-pressures placed on our nation’s healthcare delivery system serving uninsured and underinsured patients; the funding allocated to protect these critical infrastructures is severely limited.
“Study after study reveals that healthcare facilities, most notably hospitals, have experienced the same major violence — including incidents of multiple deaths — as the other major industry segments of our society. However, the healthcare industry remains behind in its application of security technology and other needed protection equipment,” it continues. “The state of readiness and general preparedness of the industry to respond to significant security emergencies, appropriately secure the facility during a pandemic outbreak or other community event creating a huge patient influx is of concern.”
In October 2007, GE Security and IAHSS released a survey of hospital security and safety personnel that provides additional justification for federal support for increased physical security investments at hospitals. The GE/IAHSS study found that:
• 3 percent of security budgets was spent on technology;
• 25 percent of security technology budgets was spent on equipment upgrades, 33 percent on new additions and 43 percent on maintenance; and
• 34 percent of respondents stated that security budgets were expected to decline in the coming year.
All units of a typical hospital — from radiology, to pediatrics, to the parking lot, to the power plant — are vulnerable to criminal or terrorist attack and worthy of increased physical security investments and a dedicated source of federal funding. Promoting a safe and secure environment for doctors, nurses, staff, patients and visitors will contribute to the quality of health care and should be considered a public health priority by leaders in Congress. Passing the Securing America’s Hospitals Act or providing other sources of federal funding will move the nation much closer to achieving this critical goal.
Don Erickson is director of government relations for the Security Industry Association.