Staying Safe Takes Leadership

Scott Wallask, for HealthLeaders Magazine , December 8, 2009
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What can hospitals learn from recent cases of violence?

Keeping patients and staff safe is every hospital's mission, but sometimes hospitals can't avoid violence. Boston area medical facilities were the scene of violent incidents in October that left a doctor seriously injured, a patient dead, a man injured with a stab wound, and a woman nearly sexually assaulted.

The HealthLeaders Media news team examined the leadership implications, as well as how healthcare workers can take precautions when confronted with potentially violent situations. Here are excerpts from Scott Wallask's daily online coverage.

Mass. General Stabbing Shows Difficulties in Preventing Violence
Violence at Boston hospitals over an eight-day period—including the stabbing of a physician and the shooting death of her assailant—proves that healthcare security is an unpredictable business.

While it's hard to immediately learn lessons from this series of incidents, safety and security professionals at several medical centers shared steps they take to prevent and respond to workplace violence.

The most newsworthy event involved an off-duty security guard who shot and killed a patient who had allegedly stabbed a psychiatrist just moments earlier in a medical office building owned by Massachusetts General Hospital, according to the Boston Police Department. The security guard, who was legally carrying a weapon, didn't work for the facility and happened to be in the medical office building at the time. The psychiatrist was expected to recover from her injuries, the Boston Globe reported.

As details emerge from the shooting, it behooves other hospital officials to ask themselves if they face similar risks at their behavioral facilities, says Steve MacArthur, safety consultant for The Greeley Company, a division of Marblehead, MA-based HCPro, Inc., which also is the parent company of HealthLeaders Media.

Cape Fear Valley Health System in Fayetteville, NC, established a security threat assessment team 10 years ago, says Steve Schultz, safety officer for Cape Fear. The team is made up of representatives from the human resources, safety, security, employee assistance, and risk management departments.

Any employee who feels threatened by someone else—be it a domestic partner, patient, or coworker—can request a meeting with the team. Supervisors who become aware of threats against their personnel can also request a meeting.

St. Joseph's Hospital in Marshfield, WI, part of Ministry Health Care, has an active shooter policy that calls for an immediate lockdown of the building in the event that someone brandishes a weapon. Security officers carry batons and pepper spray, but not guns.

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