Healthcare facilities see rising crime rates

Researcher says violence in hospitals a reflection of the current culture

Incidents of crime at healthcare facilities across the U.S. are on the rise, according to the results of a new survey. The 2012 Crime and Security Trends Survey, which was underwritten by the Foundation of the International Association for Healthcare Security and Safety (IAHSS) and based on online responses from 208 member healthcare organizations, found that the number of crimes increased by nearly 37 percent in just two years from just under 15,000 in 2010 to more than 20,500 in 2012.

Crimes at healthcare facilities increased in nearly every category including simple assaults, larceny and thefts, vandalism, rape and sexual assaults. There were also eight homicides reported among member facilities in 2012, the highest number ever recorded in the survey. In fact, 98 percent of healthcare facilities now experience violence and criminal incidents.

“What we know in the healthcare setting is that crimes have been on the increase for a number of years,” said researcher and survey author Dr. Victoria Mikow-Porto.

While these figures are striking, Porto, who serves as principal and CEO of North Carolina-based Research & Policy Analytics, believes that the rise in violence being experienced at hospitals and clinics is a reflection of our increasingly violent culture. Last year, the Bureau of Justice Statistics reported that there was a 17 percent increase in violent crime between 2010 and 2011, changing what had been a steady decline in violent crime levels since 1993.

“Actually, I was really quite surprised at the data this year,” said Porto. “And, of course, I think it’s important to remember that the vast majority of crimes that take place in healthcare facilities are simple and aggravated assaults, thefts, larceny and those sorts of things, but the increase in homicides is particularly alarming to me.”

Among some of the primary factors contributing to this epidemic, according to Mikow-Porto include:

  • Greater access to weapons, especially guns
  • Open access 24 hours a day, seven days a week, as well as an expanding number of small and large healthcare complexes
  • Long wait times in emergency rooms
  • Disputes among gang members which spill into healthcare environments
  • Cutbacks in state corrections budgets and the subsequent increase in treatment of forensic patients
  • A rise in substance abuse and easily accessed hospital pharmacies

In some circumstances, Porto said that security may be at odds with the business of running a hospital. For example, she cited an article recently published by the Los Angeles Times in which Los Angeles County decided to remove metal detectors from several hospitals to make them more appealing to patients.   

“There is a fundamental competing philosophy in healthcare between the security profession and the economic interests of healthcare facilities,” she explained. “There are two philosophies that operate. One is that security professionals try to create an environment of safety for staff, patients and the general public. On the other hand, many hospital facilities try to make themselves look very attractive.”  

Even more disturbing than this increased number of violent crimes in hospitals is the fact that many incidents may be going unreported. The U.S. Department of Justice estimates that at least half of all crimes are not reported. To get a full and accurate picture of hospital crime rates, Porto is proposing legislations that would, at least temporarily, reduce liability for healthcare facilities.

“One thing I have suggested for some time now is perhaps as a short-run attempt to get a whole picture on what’s going on… is to create something like the Clery Act,” she said. “I think the issue of liability is an absolutely critical one and explains in large measure why people are reluctant to report (crimes).”

IAHSS President Lisa Pryse also believes that liability concerns, as the potential for bad publicity has kept many healthcare facilities from participating in surveys like these.

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