Penn Medicine puts $28M toward weapons detection systems

For many working in healthcare, violence is a daily, palpable issue. Solving the crisis will involve consistent coordination between multiple stakeholders, but it starts with employers getting serious about prevention, executives at the University of Pennsylvania Health System said in a commentary published Feb. 27 in the Pennsylvania Capital-Star. 

Philadelphia-based Penn Medicine — which encompasses the University of Pennsylvania Health System — is investing more than $28 million to put weapons detection systems across entrances to hospitals and outpatient facilities, Kevin Mahoney, CEO of UPHS, and James Ballinghoff, DNP, RN, chief nursing executive of the system and chief nursing officer of Penn Presbyterian Medical Center, wrote in the piece. 

In addition to the investment in weapons detection systems, Penn Medicine is giving every clinical staff member "duress badges," which allow staff members to call for help at any time, and has rolled out deescalation training. When employees do encounter violence, the executives urged health systems to support their staff in working with police and provide counseling and support resources, including paid time off.

"Even as physical injuries to an individual professional heal, the impact of violence can linger on their psyche. And the toll on the entire healthcare system cannot be understated, from the corrosive effect on retention and recruitment of talented staff to threats to interrupting daily operations," Mr. Mahoney and Dr. Ballinghoff wrote. 

Increasingly, health system executives are calling out violence in healthcare as a crisis. Both anecdotal reports and data demonstrate the growing toll it has taken on the industry. In 2021 — the latest year for which national data are available — more than 453,000 reports of nonfatal injuries were reported by workers in healthcare and social services, the highest of any industry. 

During Cleveland Clinic's annual "State of the Clinic" address in January, the system's President and CEO Tomislav Mihaljevic, MD, said 30,000 weapons from patients and visitors were confiscated in 2023. In that system alone, caregivers reported nearly 4,000 incidents of physical and verbal violence. 

Individual measures on their own — whether actions taken by hospitals or the passage of a state law — are crucial steps in curbing violence in healthcare, but making and sustaining meaningful progress long term will require coordination between those in the industry, legislators, law enforcement and community partners, UPHS executives said. 

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