The number of armed security guards in hospitals is growing — so is the debate over their necessity

There's been a significant increase in the number of armed security guards at hospitals across the nation in recent years, stirring debate over whether guns are making healthcare institutions safer or harming those who are seeking care.

In 2014, 52 percent of hospitals reported their security personnel carried handguns, while 47 percent reported arming them with Tasers, according to a national survey cited by The New York Times. Those numbers are more than double the estimates from just three years prior.

In recent years, there have also been more than a dozen reported incidents of patients injured or killed by hospital security officers. According to The New York Times, hospitals do not have to report these types of incidents; therefore, little data is available and some cases may go unnoticed.

Some of these incidents have happened in the past year, including two that occurred at hospitals in Texas and Ohio last August. On Aug. 27, Alan Pean, a 26-year-old student, was shot by an off-duty Houston Police Department officer at St. Joseph's Medical Center. In a second incident, which also occurred Aug. 27, a patient was shot by an off-duty police officer working security at Garfield, Ohio-based Marymount Hospital.

The uptick in armed hospital security guards has occurred as the hospitals have become more dangerous. According to The New York Times, healthcare institutions reported a 40 percent increase in violent crime between 2012 and 2014, with more than 10,000 incidents directed at employees.

Even with the surge in violence at hospitals, many healthcare organizations do not arm their guards. Hospitals that prohibit their guards from carrying weapons argue security officers are not trained to work in medical settings, and adding weapons to an already tense environment can cause more harm than good. Twenty-three percent of shootings in emergency rooms involve someone taking a gun from a security guard, according to The New York Times, which cited a study by Gabor Kelen, MD, director of emergency medicine at Johns Hopkins Medical School.

Some major healthcare institutions choose to arm security guards. For example, Cleveland Clinic hires off-duty officers and has its own fully armed police force, according to The New York Times. Other hospitals, such as University of California medical centers at Irvine and San Diego, provide their guards with stun guns produced by Taser International.

Mental health issues are often at the center of the cases that end in violence, and many mental health professionals are opposed to weapons in hospitals. Instead, they advocate for the use of talk therapy, cloth restraints and other means to subdue patients, according to the report.

Mr. Pean, the patient who was shot last August in Houston, had come to the hospital for possible bipolar disorder. He never saw a psychiatrist and became increasingly delusional. Mr. Pean danced naked in his room, wondered into the hall and, according to a statement on the Houston Police Department's website, he struck one of the off-duty officers in the head before he was Tased and shot.

Last fall, CMS warned St. Joseph Medical Center that it would be terminated from the Medicare program unless it corrected safety problems that put patients in "immediate jeopardy." One of the deficiencies CMS identified was the hospital's failure to ensure that off-duty police officers working security at its facility, including those involved in the shooting of Mr. Pean, were trained in responding to crises involving confused or aggressive patients.

More articles on patient safety:

10 top patient safety issues for 2016
Listen before you speak: A new approach to patient safety efforts
How 3 organizations have used patient safety to improve financial results




Copyright © 2024 Becker's Healthcare. All Rights Reserved. Privacy Policy. Cookie Policy. Linking and Reprinting Policy.


Featured Whitepapers

Featured Webinars