What Hospitals Can Learn From the Va. Tech Tragedy

With all of the developments that have occurred since the Virginia Tech shootings, much of our coverage has focused on how this tragedy has affected educational campuses. The implications for healthcare facilities, however, are equally important.

Many hospitals are either on university campuses or are owned or controlled by them. This means many of them must comply with the Clery Act and its reporting and timely warning requirements. That said, even those healthcare institutions that have no connection to universities would be well advised to review how they contact their campus communities during emergencies. When an active shooter incident occurs, hospitals must have mass notification systems in place that will provide timely instructions to their communities, including the significant number of people who don’t regularly come on campus – visitors, patients, vendors, event attendees and more. Fortunately, many hospitals are now looking closely at upgrading their emergency alert systems.

Access control issues have also received more attention since Virginia Tech. What makes hospitals sometimes more challenging, however, is that unlike universities that can cancel classes for the day or week, medical centers often must remain open and continue operating during an incident. One factor in many medical centers’ favor, is their ability to better control access to their facilities. Unlike college classrooms where practically anyone is free to come and go, hospitals generally have lobbies where everyone must check in. This makes lockdowns more practical than at universities – that is if the appropriate access control systems, locking hardware, visitor management, policies and procedures are in place.

Panels reviewing the Virginia Tech tragedy also focused on how mental health information was (or wasn’t) shared between the gunman’s K-12 schools and the university, as well as among concerned individuals at Virginia Tech itself. Healthcare providers should also review how they provide patient mental health data to educational institutions and other hospitals. Additionally, hospitals should make sure they train staff on how to interpret the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) so that information is appropriately shared.

Hospitals also must not forget that at-risk individuals could be from the ranks of its doctors, nurses and employees. Background checks that include data from all 50 states – and even other countries when foreign-born employees are hired – are other excellent precautions.

Here are just some of the additional lessons learned from the Virginia Tech tragedies that, with some modifications, can be applied to medical centers:

  • Threat assessments should be conducted regularly, and the teams should consist of representatives from law enforcement, fire, human resources, nursing staff, administration and other appropriate departments and agencies
  • Emergency plans should be up-to-date, abide by state and federal guidelines, and include active shooter scenarios (for both armed and unarmed officers)
  • Administrators, staff, nurses and doctors, not just security personnel, should receive training on how to prevent and/or mitigate dangerous behavior
  • Hospitals should regularly interact with other local law enforcement agencies and first responders so if an emergency does occur, the response is smoother

Although Virginia Tech’s implications for hospitals may already be obvious to many, it would behoove all healthcare facilities to harness this information for the betterment of their own situations.

Robin Hattersley Gray is the executive editor of Campus Safety magazine. She can be reached at robin.gray@bobit.com.

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About the Author

robin hattersley headshot

Robin has been covering the security and campus law enforcement industries since 1998 and is a specialist in school, university and hospital security, public safety and emergency management, as well as emerging technologies and systems integration. She joined CS in 2005 and has authored award-winning editorial on campus law enforcement and security funding, officer recruitment and retention, access control, IP video, network integration, event management, crime trends, the Clery Act, Title IX compliance, sexual assault, dating abuse, emergency communications, incident management software and more. Robin has been featured on national and local media outlets and was formerly associate editor for the trade publication Security Sales & Integration. She obtained her undergraduate degree in history from California State University, Long Beach.

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