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IAHSS Conference Targets Patient Elopements

LAS VEGAS —The International Association for Healthcare Security & Safety (IAHSS) 44th Annual General Membership (AGM) Meeting and Seminar Program that took place in Las Vegas May 6-9 offered a wide variety of educational programs, from healthcare emergency management basics to leadership principles. One of the more predominant themes of the AGM was preventing patient elopements and inmate escapes.

During her presentation, titled “Trends in Prisoner Patient Security: What we know, what you need to do,” Victoria Mikow-Porto, Ph.D., explained that most escapes occur in clinical treatment areas and restrooms (39% and 29% respectively), and that 69% of escapes happen when restraints are removed. Nearly four in five (79%) occur when the inmate is in the custody of corrections, while 21% occur when the inmate is being handled by hospital security.

Photo Gallery: Highlights from the IAHSS 44th Annual General Membership Meeting

Mikow-Porto warned that the problem of forensic patient escapes won’t be going away in the near future because, “The need to provide healthcare to prisoners is likely to increase.”

Thomas A. Smith, who is the director of hospital police and transportation at UNC Hospitals, discussed designing security into construction and renovation projects. During his presentation, he recommended that suggestions for security solutions be carefully worded so they appeal to decision makers. For example, “mantraps” (used to prevent behavioral health and forensic patient escapes) should be called “elopement buffers.”

Don MacAlister of Paladin Security drilled down further on how healthcare organizations can prevent mental health patient elopements, explaining that many mental/behavioral health facilities have large, beautiful grounds that are a challenge to secure. During his presentation, he showed photos of the gaps in security he discovered at various facilities in Alberta, Canada. MacAlister recommended hospitals install security cameras on campus perimeters and provide nursing stations with good visibility. Installing fences so patients can’t climb them was another recommendation. An assessment tool on how to evaluate security to prevent patient elopements can be found at

Technology, however, wasn’t the only aspect of behavioral health patient security that was discussed at the AGM. The policies and procedures for handling these patients, which play a critical role, were also covered. Tom Lynch, who is the director of security and emergency management for Baystate Health, described how his institution’s security shadow program led to the reduction in use of restraints by security officers and overall violence in the behavioral health units.

Next year’s AGM will take play May 5-9, 2013 in Myrtle Beach, S.C.

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