With millions of Americans accessing our hospitals and healthcare system each year, Congress should ensure that these facilities have the resources to protect against the threat of violent crime or terrorist attack. Hospitals are no less vulnerable to such incidents as port facilities, public transit systems and other components of our nation’s critical infrastructure that receive substantial federal financial assistance for physical security needs.
Consider the following examples:
• In Jefferson, Ind., a man was arrested for attacking a hospital security officer and members of the emergency roof staff;
• The pregnant manager of a medical center pharmacy in Jacksonville, Fla., was shot and killed by an individual waiting in line;
• A former employee at a hospital in Wisconsin stole more than 200 computers from the hospital that he later auctioned on eBay;
• A four-day old infant was abducted in a hospital in Lubbock, Texas by a woman allegedly wearing hospital scrubs.
Through its work with security professionals at countless hospitals and healthcare facilities, The Security Industry Association’s (SIA) members understand the challenges hospitals face in securing additional resources to protect their environments, and they have developed a legislative proposal that will strengthen the physical security budgets of thousands of hospitals across the nation.
As currently drafted, the “Securing America’s Hospitals Act of 2008” would authorize $500 million in new federal grant funds for hospitals to use for physical security investments. This legislation is modeled after the Port Security Grant Program codified under the SAFE Port Act and the Public Transportation Security Assistance grant program established by Congress last year.
Under the proposed hospital grant program, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services would administer a new funding source that could be used for improving physical security through the acquisition, installation, or use of electronic technology including access control systems; identification credentials; bomb detection devices; video surveillance cameras; locking devices; and mass annunciation systems.
The proposed legislation, which may be introduced in Congress by late spring, would limit each grant award to $100,000 annually so that a maximum number of hospitals, regardless of geographic location or bed size, could participate in the program. The federal share of the program would depend on the size of a security project, and a hospital could apply for more than one grant over the course of five years.
The need for this legislation is supported by the International Association of Healthcare Security and Safety (IAHSS). “There has been, of course, improvement in many healthcare facility protection programs; however, overall progress is nominal,” IAHSS says in a statement. “Above and beyond the daily incidents that challenge healthcare, many facilities do not have the resources to appropriately protect their environment. 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. The healthcare industry, however, remains behind in its application of security technology and other needed protection equipment. The state of readiness and general preparedness of the industry to respond to significant security emergencies, to appropriately secure the facility during a pandemic outbreak or other community event is also of concern.
IAHSS is concerned about the increasing risk of violence and theft in healthcare, the availability of staff to respond to security emergencies, specific-security training provided to healthcare practitioners, and the general appropriateness of the protection measures installed to make these healing environments safe. Quality patient care cannot be provided if staff members are fearful for their own personal well-being.
GE Security and IAHSS recently collaborated on a study of hospital security and safety personnel that provides further justification for federal support for increased physical security investments at hospitals. The study finds that:
• Just 13 percent of security budgets were spent on technology;
• 25 percent of technology budgets are spent on equipment upgrades, 33 percent on new additions and 43 percent on maintenance;
• 34 percent of respondents believe their security budgets will decline next year; and
• Just 7 percent of respondents reported an annual security budget in excess of $5 million.
Without question, all units of a typical hospital — from the radiology and pediatric units to the parking lots and power plants — are vulnerable to criminal or terrorist attack. Promoting a safe and secure environment for the hospital staffs, patients and visitors contributes to the quality of healthcare in our country and should be considered a public health priority by leaders in Congress. Passage of the Securing America’s Hospitals Act would help achieve this critical goal.
Don Erickson is director of government relations for the Security Industry Association. To learn more about SIA’s 2008 legislative agenda, visit www.siaonline.org.