Hospital Security: The Past, The Present, and The Future

Healthcare security consultant Jeff Aldridge addresses today's and tomorrow's needs


[Editor's note: This featured column begins a regular series of columns on healthcare security. Author Jeff Aldridge and others from Security Assessments International have agreed to discuss the changing needs of security in hospital settings, and will be addressing new technologies, procedural changes and new issues affecting today's healthcare facilities. Look for these articles to appear each month on our Healthcare Security section, as Jeff and his associates begin this in-depth review.]

On July 15, 2005, a state-of-the-art infant protection system thwarted an infant abduction from Presbyterian Hospital in Charlotte, N.C. An infant protection system sounded an audible alarm when a baby was snatched from the hospital nursery. The high-tech "Hugs" infant protection system is part of an elaborate security management program designed to protect the hospital's patients, visitors, and staff.

The kidnappers were immediately arrested and identified as the mother and father of the recovered, 4-day-old baby boy. In less than a minute the mother and father were able to snatch their son from a seventh-floor nursery, place him in a duffel bag, and run from the hospital.

A quick response by an alert staff set into motion a well-rehearsed plan that lead to the immediate recovery of the missing baby. Suspecting child abuse, the Department of Social Services had earlier taken the couple's other children into custody. Believing their youngest son would also be taken, the couple made a frantic attempt to steal their baby from the hospital. The community was outraged that someone would enter a hospital nursery with the intent to steal a baby. Decades ago this type of crime would have been unheard of in a hospital setting.

PAST

Hospitals and churches have always been considered sacred, at least as far back as I can remember. During my youth it was inconceivable that anyone would violate the sanctity of a hospital and commit a crime, much less steal a baby. Unfortunately, hospitals are no longer immune from criminal assault. Crime continues to find its way into our hospitals at an alarming rate. Why does this happen? Well, for one thing, hospitals are institutions of tradition, and historically have resisted becoming bastions of security. The emphasis has always been on providing open and friendly access to the public.

Part of a hospital's image has been to maintain an open door policy for anyone and everyone that wished to visit a sick family member or love-one. Heck, I remember when people used to go to the hospital just to see the babies. There was nothing unusual at all for strangers to be seen on the baby floor.

PRESENT

As crime continues to grow in this country, we find we are not safe in our businesses, or our schools, and now, even in our hospitals. All of these places have become targets of criminal assault, and as a result, we have been forced to increase security in every facet of our public and private life to keep crime away. Most hospitals have been slow to follow suit. Even today, many hospitals still have the same open door policy they have practiced for decades.

Hospitals are targets because they are open to the public 24 hours a day, seven days a week. These public access facilities have been conditioned over the years to allow scores of people from all walks of life to enter these institutions unchallenged. The definition of "public access" means that all persons that enter a hospital seeking treatment, or to visit a love-one, have the right to come and go as they please…and for many facilities, this is still is the practice. This mind-set does not take into consideration there are people in our society that hold no institution sacred, and their sole reason to enter a hospital is to commit a crime against a person, or the hospital, or both.

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