Improving Hospital Staff and Patient Safety by Investing in Public Safety

Providing accurate information to both first responders and on-site personnel is essential during a hospital emergency, and there are technologies that can help.

Improving Hospital Staff and Patient Safety by Investing in Public Safety

Photo: chokchaipoo, Adobe Stock

Although healthcare facilities are accustomed to dealing with medical emergencies daily, unexpected staff and patient safety-related emergencies can still arise.

Healthcare workers are disproportionately vulnerable to workplace assaults. In fact, more than 70% of all workplace assaults occur in healthcare and social service settings, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Between 2002 and 2013, incidents of serious workplace violence were four times more common in healthcare than in any other industry. And the threats are only rising. Nearly half of hospital nurses in a 2022 National Nurses United study reported an increase in attacks against them — up from 31% in 2021.

Hospitals may encounter situations in which a patient verbally or physically threatens staff, a distraught family member becomes violent, gang violence arises in the emergency department, or a domestic dispute escalates. And while patients are the largest source of violence in healthcare settings, hospitals — as with schools — are not typically designed to withstand the threat of a determined intruder.

Between 2012 and 2016, 88 shootings occurred in 86 hospitals nationwide, leading to 121 gun-related deaths, according to a study in the National Library of Medicine. Those attacks mostly occurred in emergency departments, patient rooms, and parking lots.

Institutions and organizations play an increasingly significant role in ensuring first responders have access to accurate safety and security information when responding to an emergency. It’s critical that facilities meet new regulations, required under two federal laws, that help 911 callers and emergency services locate each other more efficiently. It’s also important that they go the extra mile to protect hospital staff, patients, and visitors.

How to Help Public Safety Professionals Better Respond to Hospital Emergencies

As of 2020, Kari’s Law requires that designated on-site personnel are notified when a 911 call is made and the facility’s phone system enables direct 911 calls. Meanwhile, RAY BAUM’S Act mandates that organizations using multi-line phone systems, such as hospitals, provide public safety professionals with the necessary data about a 911 caller’s physical location.

Responding to an emergency on a large campus, especially at a university hospital, can be as challenging as finding a needle in a haystack. First responders may have trouble finding the correct building entrance. Maybe their only option is to enter through the main door and travel around the building. There may be multiple buildings and floors affected by the emergency. Plus, receiving the correct location information during the initial call is essential to responding effectively. For this reason, facilities need to engage with a solution provider rather than a reseller of a specific technology.

Whether you’re operating a hospital, nursing home, or another healthcare setting, keeping your facility — along with its employees, visitors, and patients — safe is essential. And to do so, it starts with first responders obtaining critical and accurate location information about emergency incidents and related events.

Medical facilities should look for vendors that provide location discovery services and detailed multimodal notifications that feature audio and video information. In addition, they should choose vendors that offer connectivity to network providers that support emerging data formats and protocols through Next Generation emergency networks. As a result, carriers can provide information directly to the emergency communications center (ECC) and public safety answering point (PSAP), while simultaneously integrating any onsite resources that can expedite response efforts and coordinate with public safety.

Providing accurate and immediate information to first responders and on-site personnel can improve situational awareness, which is especially important when multiple agencies and jurisdictions are involved in an emergency response. Facilities have an opportunity to prioritize public safety and optimize security, rather than simply complying with regulations. Some of the key technologies that facilities need to be aware of and evaluate include:

  1. Interactive mapping. In the event that a patient or employee mistakenly provides an incorrect address during a 911 call, interactive mapping and location discovery services can assist in determining the correct location. Interactive mapping allows facilities to quickly and visually lock and unlock campus doors with just a few clicks. It also offers camera access to common areas and real-time communications capabilities, allowing everyone involved to streamline emergency communications. By offering these solutions and making relevant details available to 911 call centers, first responders will have the information they need to address situations promptly and accurately.
  2. Jurisdiction satellite maps. If a PSAP or ECC uses jurisdiction satellite maps, they can easily toggle on the vendor’s solution for supplemental data at no cost to first responders. West Central Dispatch in Missouri is one of many centers that already uses this. Instead of a pin dropping on a map, the call center can view campus boundaries and floor plans within its geofenced perimeter for a better sense of the situation. They can also immediately notify on-site personnel. As a result, authorities won’t waste time sending first responders to the wrong location.
  3. Incident command and control customization for first responders. With the advancement of technology in the public safety industry, 911 professionals can become more dynamic and productive while reducing their workload. Facilities should look for vendors that understand the entire workflow, as well as the individuals that will consume the information. The inclusion of a separate police menu for incident command, for example, is an essential requirement. With special capabilities, first responders can manage situations quickly from a menu with functions that allow them to clear buildings or invite other responders to the scene, including hazmat teams, health departments, or tactical teams. As a result, incident commanders and staff can view the situation from the same vantage point. This improves efficiency and effectiveness, and better protects employees, patients, and visitors.

Despite technology advancements, building security solutions remain in their infancy. And as a result, many niche businesses have entered the market with myopic and siloed one-off solutions. Some offer weapons detection. Others provide facial recognition or video mapping. This model forces organizations to contract with multiple vendors and piece together a security solution. By choosing a vendor with an all-encompassing vision and built on interoperable standards-based solutions through a secure, but easily consumed web portal, facilities can protect those on their campus and ensure everyone involved in an emergency has access to identical information.

When you tailor an emergency toolkit to your facility’s needs, you do more than just ensure compliance. You also provide a higher level of safety and protection for each employee, visitor, or patient who steps foot on your campus.

Ivo Allen is a 30-plus-year veteran of the telecom industry. He is the CEO of 911inform, a public safety company providing mission-critical situational awareness to the existing 911 system. 

Note: The views expressed by guest bloggers and contributors are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, Campus Safety.

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