Security in Healthcare

Addressing today’s top threats to hospitals

Our nation’s hospitals and healthcare organizations encounter numerous challenges, both internally and externally, and they need to maintain their continuity of operations every day. But when it comes to the basic mission of protecting patients or practitioners in our facilities, is our healthcare system prepared enough to handle this public safety?

Scanning today’s headlines will tell us that active assailants, workplace violence, natural disasters and other threats are increasing. Healthcare systems must rise to the challenge to become more vigilantly prepared and offer more enhanced response capabilities, while also staying laser-focused on its core responsibility—treating patients. In order to balance these pressing priorities, it’s become critical for hospitals and healthcare systems to create internal teams who are leading the effort to provide a safe and secure environment, even in dire situations.

The key aspect of providing the best care is preparing and planning for not only all types of emergencies, but specifically focusing on those that are most likely to occur. A recent survey from Rave Mobile Safety found a stark difference between what healthcare organizations believe are their top safety concerns and the realities of what emergencies commonly occur. While respondents cited events such as active shooter incidents and cyberattacks as their chief concerns, the most common incidents that actually take place are system outages and weather events.

Concerns Versus Preparedness

The survey examined the current and most pressing emergency concerns for hospitals and healthcare facilities. Specific building emergencies, such as fire drills, continue to be a priority, but the reality is that there are discrepancies about what emergencies occur compared to the preparedness plans healthcare facilities have in place.

In fact, 60 percent of respondents revealed that they conduct fire drills every quarter, yet only 18 percent have had a serious fire incident within the last two years. Though fire drills remain a cornerstone of emergency preparedness, these plans for modern-day adverse events, such as cyberattacks and weather events, aren’t robust enough. It’s essential that each type of emergency is prepared for and prevention measures are practiced beyond those that have been historically top of mind. This doesn’t mean that healthcare professionals should not prepare for such an emergency, but it highlights the disparity between the drills currently taking place and the actual emergencies that are the most probable threat.

The Reality of Today’s Threats

Rather than relying too heavily on the traditional practice of fire drills it is also crucial for hospitals and healthcare systems to identify additional safety threats and plan accordingly. In this research, respondents stated that system outages (54 percent) and weather events (52 percent) are the most common incidents, followed by workplace violence (27 percent).

System outages. While the findings show that other unforeseen events are the top priority for healthcare organizations, the reality is that system outages are the most common incidents the industry regularly experiences. Outside of survey respondents who work in facilities, system outages weren’t a top safety concern. A contrast continues to appear between preparedness and actual situations, with 32 percent of respondents who’ve had a system outage said they’ve never ran an emergency drill. This is a sobering considering that system outages can cripple everyday business operations of an entire healthcare facility.

Weather-related events. The frequency and severity of weather-related incidents, such as hurricanes, tornados, flooding and wildfires, are impacting the communities these hospitals and healthcare facilities serve, but also their operations. When these events occur, they are causing more people to search for care, and these organizations need to ensure they have enough staff available to care for the influx of patients. Half of the survey respondents reported experiencing a dangerous weather incident within the last two years, while over half said their facilities have gone over a year without testing their weather-related emergency plans.

This is in contrast to the recommended twice-a-year testing by the Joint Commission on the Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations. It specifies testing exercises should be developed using plausible scenarios that are realistic and relevant to a specific organization. These tests will help healthcare facilities to identify deficiencies, so corrective actions can be made ahead of the next test or actual emergency.

Workplace violence. As is the case with our police officers and firefighters, nurses, doctors, emergency room technicians and healthcare professionals come to work every day on the frontline of our communities. Healthcare employees are often working in an environment at personal risk, caring for patients who have a history of violence, may be under the influence of drugs or act out during a high-stress situation. According to the United States Department of Labor, the healthcare industry accounts for nearly as many serious violent injuries as all other industries combined.

Our research found that 29 percent of respondents reported workplace violence to be their biggest safety concern, even though 33 percent have never run workplace violence drills. It’s even more vital for healthcare professionals to have an opportunity to report these incidents, but 25 percent of those respondents who experienced a workplace violence incident also said they didn’t have a method to report anonymous tips.

The Need for Essential Changes

It’s clear that the industry has room for improvement as healthcare organizations prepare for the most common threats. By including regular drills and drafting emergency plans that leverage tools like mass notification systems, healthcare professionals can be prepared and kept safe from a number of possible threats, not just those that are most likely to occur.

This article originally appeared in the May/June 2019 issue of Campus Security Today.