Hospitals & Facilities

Hospital security can be high tech, but it doesn’t have to be

Some health systems are relying on a tried-and-true method to deter violence: K-9s.
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· 4 min read

For years, health systems have relied on cameras, security guards, and alarms to deter violence and ensure patient and staff safety. The rise in mass shootings and violence against healthcare workers across the US, however, has forced hospitals to reconsider their security strategies.

Many facilities have upped police and security presence on campus or installed metal detectors and swipe-access barriers in emergency departments (EDs) in recent years. Health system executives are increasingly incorporating safety and security features into building designs (or redesigns)—be it new technology or something as simple as adding calming features, like windows.

Some hospitals are even turning to a safety and security strategy that’s been used for centuries, and one that many people deploy in their own homes: dogs. More specifically, these dogs are K-9s that, along with their handlers, can detect weapons, deter violence, and de-escalate dangerous incidents.

Going to the dogs

“We have this amazing solution,” Michael Larkin, VP of commercial sales for Global K9 Protection Group (GK9PG), the company behind the Paws+ Hospital Safety Program, told Healthcare Brew. “It already exists.”

That “technology,” a detection dog’s ability to sniff out threats, could become more commonplace in hospitals across the US—at least, if Larkin’s Paws+ has anything to do about it.

Paws+ provides participating healthcare facilities with trained explosives and firearms-detection dogs that (along with their handlers) keep patients, staff, and visitors safe by identifying weapons and de-escalating potentially violent situations by barking—something that can throw off or scare aggressors. Larkin added that the dogs can serve as a visual deterrent to bad actors, as well as a comforting sight for patients and staff.

“[Dogs] have two experiences for people: positive or negative. In the right setting, they can really have a big impact on people’s feeling of safety and security,” he said.

The program has helped at least one hospital reduce emergency room violence after just a few short months, Larkin said. UnityPoint Health in Peoria, Illinois, he said, went from an average of 13 violent incidents in January—one month before the system introduced detection dogs as part of a pilot program—to zero in May.

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Larkin said GK9PG is now working with additional health systems interested in adopting the Paws+ model, which can be customized to meet specific needs.

Other approaches

Aside from K-9 detection strategies, health system leaders are also looking at how they can better design spaces to improve safety without stoking anxiety among patients and visitors.

Trinity Health President and CEO Michael Slubowski offered that while adding metal detectors to an ED can make some patients feel safer, it can discourage others.

“The whole premise for healthcare is that we’re places of healing and health […] supporting communities,” he told Healthcare Brew in May. “You don’t want to send mixed signals about barriers to health and to wholeness by doing this stuff. You have to find the right balance.”

To mitigate the “perception that [someone isn’t] welcome here,” CannonDesign has started to take a layered approach to security in which the first layer is the hardest to bypass, said Abbie Clary, the architecture firm’s global health practice codirector.

“How do you make the steps of security happen so security isn’t first—it’s not the front door? Also how do you eliminate what it looks like?” she said.

Mike Pukszta, codirector of CannonDesign’s global health practice, said that solutions could be as simple as adding more windows or access to natural spaces at a facility—things that some studies have linked to decreased violence.

“We can actually be proactive and create an environment that doesn’t have characteristics that are going to increase aggressive behavior or those tendencies,” he told Healthcare Brew.

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Healthcare Brew covers pharmaceutical developments, health startups, the latest tech, and how it impacts hospitals and providers to keep administrators and providers informed.