Vertical Market Focus: Assisted Living & Health Monitoring--How to Secure Assisted Living Facilities

Regardless of whether a security system is being designed for a large metro’s assisted living facility or a small rural nursing home, a level of access control is required to assure that residents, employees and visitors are properly protected. Not only does the level of protection need to ensure security but it also must allow for freedom of movement among staff and patients.

The security of an assisted living or nursing home might also need to extend to protecting residents from themselves. Many of these facilities are home to individuals with Alzheimer’s or dementia. These residents require special attention and can benefit from systems to prevent elopement. While we won’t cover those specific technologies here, a thorough understanding of what systems are installed is critical as the security system is developed and installed.Such considerations usually require that the controlled access not only be thorough and effective but easy to use. Such systems have often come with a heavy price tag attached. But they don't have to.

Control access to protect assets

            Controlling access and protecting assets has become ever more important to nursing homes and assisted living organizations. Thanks to the additional focus on access control security, the last few years have seen innovations in how facilities are designed and protected, with emphasis placed on structural integrity and logistical flow.

Patented key systems: Even the design and implementation of keys has made advancements. With the use of a patented key system, assisted living facilities can better protect against duplication because key blanks may only be acquired through the system's manufacturer. Since designs are patented, attempts to duplicate the design without permission are subject to federal law.
Electronic locks and credential readers: There are a number of different applications within a healthcare facility that require varying levels of access control. From perimeter doors to medical records and pharmacy rooms to linen and supplies storage—every area has unique requirements. Electronic locks and credential readers are available with features and options to fit every application—whether it’s a standalone keypad electronic lock with audit trail capability, a wirelessly networked electronic lock that can be upgraded at a later date, or a reader that can read both proximity and smart cards at the same time—the current and future function of each specific opening should be considered when specifying a solution.

Smart cards: Contactless smart credentials provide the highest level of security, compatibility and scalability. They can be customized to meet present security and safety issues but will accommodate other applications that let the system easily, quickly and affordably grow and adapt as needed. The flexible design of these credentials helps them support diversified applications ranging from biometrics to cashless vending to logical access control. Smart card users can gain access to areas of the facility, such as prescription drugs are kept, where only they have been granted special access as well as use equipment, tools and other physical assets.
Biometric readers: Biometric technology may be a viable solution for both the access control and time and attendance systems within a long-term care organization. By scanning a user's fingerprint or hand geometry, biometric devices identify the user and then relay the information back to the system to check access rights or sign them in for their work shift. Because the biometric device checks fingerprints or hand geometry, it eliminates the practice of employees loaning their credentials to others. Biometrics ensures the person is who they say they are. Borrowing another’s card or PIN code isn’t enough.

            In one facility, administrators discovered that they had been spending too much time manually processing the payroll data. Plus, they discovered that some employees were filling out timecards for their friends, which was costing them thousands of dollars each month in unwarranted wages. Biometrics puts an immediate halt to such buddy-punching. Before automatically suggesting card credentials throughout the facility, see if biometrics are being used in time and attendance. If the organization is already using biometrics for this application, it is much easier to migrate biometrics into some of the access/egress points.

Access control software: Most facilities should be able to find and implement access control software that is effective, inexpensive and easy to use. The software will not only let administrators manage access rights, but allows administrators to quickly change authorization or door status in case of emergency.

Facilities that see value in an access control system but are concerned about the cost should keep in mind that not every opening and access point in the facility must be included. Openings considered nonessential can still be protected by more conventional means. Additionally, new Web-based access control systems on the market have been created with fewer than 32 controlled openings in mind.

For instance, an inoperative door was the final breaking point for Anthony Aldretti, maintenance supervisor for the Colorado State Veterans Nursing Home in Walsenburg. That’s when he called Earl Truncer, security and safety consultant for Ingersoll Rand Security Technologies, who had visited with him in the past, discussing online and wireless access control systems.

            The nursing home is a 120-bed long term care facility for veterans and their spouses from the region and nearby states. Built in 1993 and adjacent to Spanish Peaks Hospital, the nursing home offers a bright, modern and comfortable atmosphere with views of the nearby mountains and lakes. It provides a special care unit for Alzheimer’s and dementia residents.

            According to Truncer, the facility has a series of security issues:

  • The facility is an “L-shaped” building with the veteran’s home on one wing and the hospital on the other. Medical and staff personnel go back and forth regularly.
  • The facility provides meals to the nearby prison. Prison personnel pick up the trays of food and later return the trays.
  • On very cold nights, the homeless are permitted to stay within specified areas of the hospital.
  • The combination hospital/nursing home has 200 employees and 20 doors that need locking.

Knowing of the facility’s present key-based system and the access control needs of the hospital/nursing home, Truncer put Aldretti in touch with Russell Bogner of Colorado State Safe & Lock in Colorado Springs. Bogner had recently installed the Schlage bright blue Web-based access control system at several other Colorado locations and Truncer felt that it would provide a solution that Aldretti would like.  

According to Bogner, the access control system is created especially for smaller facilities. Eliminating the need for special software or a dedicated PC, it would let authorized nursing home/hospital administrators access, monitor and manage their system from any computer running a standard web browser. Importantly, the cost of this system was less than that of a single panel on larger security management system solutions and the system’s plug-and-play design made configuration easy.

“Bogner was right,” emphasized Aldretti. “We had already used other systems with all the bells and whistles that we didn’t need and never used. They were just too cumbersome. Using bright blue, we upgraded from keys to proximity readers and keyfobs which our users conveniently keep on their keychains.”

Aldretti’s boss, Support Services Director Dave McGraw agreed. “We like the reliability this system provides. We wanted a system that we could count on to control access at our perimeter doors, especially for those emergency occasions that happen, including when we need to isolate an incident. It was important that we could lockdown with as few steps as possible.”

With the bright blue system, lockdown is a simple click of the mouse.

“We also wanted to keep expenses down by using whatever we already had,” added McGraw. “Although much of the facility was key-based, there were a few standalone doors being controlled electronically and being accessed with proximity keyfobs. We issue key fobs to personnel on an as-needed basis,” McGraw continued. “What is especially helpful is that now we can issue different levels of security to various individuals. Some people can access all doors; others can only access some doors. Others can only access doors at certain times of the day.”

“Importantly, we’ve had no complaints from the employees,” Aldretti confirmed. “It was very easy to train them. They were comfortable with the system right away. The main entrances are open throughout the day and are closed down after visiting hours. Employees now appreciate knowing that the doors are locked from then on. If a door is unlocked, we are able to see that in the system.”

Affordable and flexible implementation: When access control systems first became popular, facilities had to be hardwired to add electronic locks and readers. Running wire was expensive and the dust of the construction threatened to contaminate patient care areas. Dedicated computers were required to run the system no matter the size. Systems were both costly and potentially required IT support.

Wireless devices, such as readers and electronic locks, are becoming more popular due to their reliability and ease of installation. And, with the use of Web-based access control systems, implementation is not only affordable but also quicker and safer for all.

Safety and security fosters healthcare success

Optimizing the facility’s physical environment can have a direct link to improved patient safety and outcomes, patient and staff satisfaction and financial performance of the organization.

With advanced design strategies, innovative hardware and careful authorization of personal access, your assisted living and nursing home customers can better control the access of its inhabitants in and around the building as well as protect assets.