December 03, 2013 | | Comments 1
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Searching so long…

I don’t hear too many stories like this anymore, but I can tell you, as a former manager of security services at a hospital, this is one that really gives me pause.

In September, at a hospital out in San Francisco, a patient disappeared from her room, after which a search ensued with no result. The awful thing is that the patient was found in a locked stairwell about two weeks later by an engineering staff member doing rounds. You can find the San Francisco Examiner story that caught my eye (as well as several related stories).

Now I’m sure the investigation will yield some indication of what happened, but I’m also thinking that the whole story may never be revealed. Was that stairwell inspected prior to the point when the engineering staff person made their rounds? How was the search conducted? Was there a conscious decision to limit the search to unsecured areas? At what point do you suspend the search?

I’m certainly not going to Monday-morning quarterback such an awful circumstance, but the question I ask myself is this: can you stop looking when you’ve not found the person you’re looking for? Again, it’s my understanding that the stairwell in question was secured, but how many times have you encountered a security system that was absolutely impregnable—my experience has been that the human element is all too frequently the means of defeating the certain security measure. So has this particular tragedy caused anyone to look at, or even rethink, their search protocols? Are there areas you might not consider as being accessible that might warrant at least inclusion in a comprehensive search grid? I’d be interested in what you all think about this one.

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Steve MacArthur About the Author: Steve MacArthur is a safety consultant with The Greeley Company in Danvers, Mass. He brings more than 30 years of healthcare management and consulting experience to his work with hospitals, physician offices, and ambulatory care facilities across the country. He is the author of HCPro's Hospital Safety Director's Handbook and is contributing editor for Briefings on Hospital Safety. Contact Steve at stevemacsafetyspace@gmail.com.

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  1. What is even more disturbing is that an orderly stepped over the women and reported her being in the stair well to the nurse on that floor. She is reported to have reported it to the police. So what happened to the concept of patient care? Protocol is one thing, compassion is another!

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