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An interesting security development: To arm or not to arm?

In a February 18 Joint Commission leadership blog post, Mark Crafton, TJC’s executive director of communications and external relations, focuses on the benefits of investigating different approaches for mitigating violence in hospitals. At least that’s where the conversation starts, but it ends up in kind of an interesting (and to my eyes, unexpected) direction: the question of whether hospital security officers are a more effective deterrent/mitigation strategy when they are armed. (N.B.: In Crafton’s post, he refers to security “guards”; call me whatever you like, but I think the term “guard” just doesn’t ring well with me. I’m okay with the terms “security staff” or “security officers,” but “guards” just gives me the vapors—metaphorically speaking, of course.)

In the course of the posting, Crafton points to an article in the Chattanooga Time Free Press that will likely generate some debate among healthcare security professionals, and I tend to agree with that thought. Apparently the article was the result of a healthcare system’s decision to disarm their security staff and adopt the “soft” uniform look (e.g., blazers, etc.) to more effectively emphasize the security officer’s role as a more customer-oriented (my description) countenance. Now we’ve touched on the subject of arming security officers in the past (it’s been a really long time) and it’s probably way past the time for looking at this topic, particularly as the good folks at CMS have some rather strong thoughts on the subject:

CMS does not consider the use of weapons in the application of restraint or seclusion as a safe, appropriate health care intervention. For the purposes of this regulation, the term  “weapon” includes, but is not limited to, pepper spray, mace, nightsticks, tazers, cattle prods, stun guns, and pistols. Security staff may carry weapons as allowed by hospital policy, and State and Federal law. However, the use of weapons by security staff is considered a law enforcement action, not a health care intervention. CMS does not support the use of weapons by any hospital staff as a means of subduing a patient in order to place that patient in restraint or seclusion. If a weapon is used by security or law enforcement personnel on a person in a hospital (patient, staff, or visitor) to protect people or hospital property from harm, we would expect the situation to be handled as a criminal activity and the perpetrator be placed in the custody of local law enforcement.

The use of handcuffs, manacles, shackles, other chain-type restraint devices, or other restrictive devices applied by non-hospital employed or contracted law enforcement officials for custody, detention, and public safety reasons are not governed by this rule. The use of such devices are considered law enforcement restraint devices and would not be considered safe, appropriate health care restraint interventions for use by hospital staff to restrain patients. The law enforcement officers who maintain custody and direct supervision of their prisoner (the hospital’s patient) are responsible for the use, application, and monitoring of these restrictive devices in accordance with Federal and State law. However, the hospital is still responsible for an appropriate patient assessment and the provision of safe, appropriate care to its patient (the law enforcement officer’s prisoner).

As you can well imagine, equipping security staff with weapons of almost any stripe can result in the classic slippery slope. My personal practice was to have a clear delineation between security staff and law enforcement responders. Security staff were provided ongoing crisis management education and worked closely with clinical staff to proactively manage at-risk situations. Law enforcement response was summoned when appropriate and the use of weapons was solely at the discretion of those responders. I know those lines can get pretty blurry in the heat of the moment, but specific roles are, I think, the best starting point for an effective security program.

At any rate, Crafton goes on to discuss the following: the cases for armed/not armed security staff; armed staff as authority figures vs. armed staff as a potential for raised anxiety of patients who are already distressed/stressed; and how do you make patients and staff safe, etc. There are, of course, good arguments on both sides, but ultimately (and this is one of the common threads when it comes to TJC standards and expectations), it is the responsibility of each organization to determine how best to manage, in this case, security risks. It doesn’t seem likely that peace, love, and understanding are going to be breaking out any time soon; the role of the security officer has never been more important.

If you don’t have pictures, you don’t have —!

As you are all no doubt familiar, sometimes those educational topics surrounding safety can come across as a bit dry and that dryness all too frequently ends up being the focal point of safety presentations. Now, one of the fun little quirky things that you run into when flying is that every time you get on a plane, you have to go through orientation (if only we as healthcare safety professionals could “capture” an audience as frequently as the airlines do) and sometime those orientations are very much less than compelling. And so, I thought that you might find the following offerings from NPR and The Telegraph of some interest, entertainment, and perhaps some inspiration. As I like to say during my consulting visits, this stuff doesn’t have to be torture. At any rate, I hope you enjoy these, and maybe you’ve got some homegrown footage you’d want to share (or perhaps already have shared); there’s no reason we can’t all partake of such splendor.

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.