The Key to Keeping Healthcare Facilities Safe and Secure

The Key to Keeping Healthcare Facilities Safe and Secure

Providing a safe environment for patients, staff and visitors

Quick access to medical care is essential, especially in emergency situations. Accordingly, our hospitals, healthcare facilities and their campuses are generally conveniently located, open 24/7 and accessible to the public. But these factors can also present increased security risks. Consider the fact that many healthcare facilities and campuses are spread throughout a city—interwoven with commercial and retail businesses. What’s more, on any given day, a hospital can experience hundreds of visitors.

When you think about it, security systems in hospitals and healthcare facilities are crucial to protecting people and property. Access control is one of the keys to providing a safe environment for patients, staff and visitors. Hospitals are particularly complex in this regard since there is a main entrance along with many other alternative entry sites. There are often large campuses with multiple buildings (which may be interconnected), each with its own security requirements.

Within the main facility, there are also a number of areas that need to be well-secured. These include restricted units with immune compromised patients, surgical units, labs, animal research facilities, or quarantined areas. An access control system can ensure that only authorized personnel enter these zones.

By knowing who is entering your building and the time of entry, you can protect against unauthorized access and potential workplace violence as well as the theft of medication, PPE and sensitive patient records. This can be bolstered by integrating video, and audio with access controls via a common network.

However, it’s important to note that the solutions you install shouldn’t be just a short-term fix, unless if it’s for a temporary facility. You should adopt them with the intention of it being a long-term answer that can help in multiple situations, now and in the future.

Case in point: MLK Hospital in Los Angeles

Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Hospital in Los Angeles is a great example of a facility that eff ectively uses cutting-edge access control. A 131-bed hospital in the Willowbrook community of South Los Angeles, it is the second-busiest emergency department in LA county. Many of its patients suffer from substance abuse, mental health problems and homelessness.

The facility enhanced its security system early in the pandemic by locking all of its card readers, using audio and messaging to direct everyone to a main entrance. This enabled the facility to screen employees, visitors and vendors upon entry. Other healthcare facilities could achieve something similar by using onboard camera cross line detection analytics, network surveillance camera and network horn speaker. When someone enters a predefined area, the solution automatically triggers a message.

Monitoring Access during a Pandemic

The current COVID-19 crisis has greatly impacted how healthcare providers operate. That, of course, is no surprise. This past spring, healthcare facilities worked around the clock to flatten the curve. Now, they are poised for potential resurgences. In light of this, many hospitals and long-term care facilities are considering technology to provide protection and curb the spread of the virus, as they try to address important questions like: • How can we continue to provide quality care but minimize inperson visits to decrease the chance of exposure? • How can we better protect PPE equipment, especially in temporary facilities? • If we invest now, how can this technology help our facility longterm?

These questions help paint a picture of what is most concerning: health, safety and security. We have learned the impact of COVID-19 is not short-term. It is likely to drive the need for facilities to put into place long-term practices and adopt new technology. The right technological solutions can put facilities in the best position to mitigate the spread of disease, keep equipment secure, and ensure that patients, visitors, and staff remain safe, now and in the future.

Preventing the transmission of coronavirus in healthcare settings is obviously critical. Thus, knowing exactly who is in your facility is an important security component. A single person can infect two to four people, according to the Joint Commission, a nonprofit that accredits more than 22,000 U.S. healthcare organizations. After five transmission cycles, it could then lead to upwards of 345 people being infected. The news is full of stories about the virus spreading rapidly through a population in enclosed settings.

To decrease droplet dispersal, scientists and healthcare officials have pleaded with people to wear masks, social distance when possible, wash their hands, and regularly disinfect surfaces. These practices, of course, are mandatory in healthcare settings, but present their own challenges.

Touchless and Low-touch Access is a Major Step

Often the best way to social distance is by limiting the number of people in a space or by redirecting traffic. Regularly disinfecting surfaces is important as well. But it is also critical to reduce the number of surfaces touched, which goes even further to suppress spread.

Touchless and low-touch access control can act as a force multiplier for healthcare facilities by eliminating keypads and thus reducing the amount of shared contact points. It can also be coupled with a third-party system to automatically open and shut doors. This further removes the need to touch any surface such as a door handle.

The type of solution you need depends on your facility. For small, basic installations a touchless or low-touch access control solution that uses QR codes might do the trick. It creates a credential with validity date and time. The person receives a QR code. From there, the network door controller receives their information and recognizes them. When they use the QR code, the system grants them access. Facilities can use a similar setup with RFID.

For more advanced security requirements, you’ll likely need a more robust solution. This will take advantage of the latest analytics and integrate seamlessly with other systems, such as intrusion detection. Depending on the system, the network intercom or video door station, for example, could even instruct visitors to wear masks before they enter the building.

Temporary Facilities Require Flexible Solutions

Access control and other security measures are especially critical when considering temporary facilities, which were relied on heavily during the early days of the pandemic and may come into play during a virus resurgence.

In many areas of the world, temporary facilities are still in use and will probably provide medical services for quite some time. All these provisional healthcare centers may be left without adequate security because of the typical high cost of traditional security installations.

The solution for these facilities is a deployable system, which is affordable and simple to operate. It provides flexible, scalable security without the need of an onsite physical network. An access control system, with touchless or low-touch access control, can ensure that only authorized personnel enter these facilities, the perfect way to not only safeguard these quarters but also mitigate the spread of the virus.

Long-term Security Requires Forward Thinking

Hospitals, healthcare facilities and their campuses present unique security risks. The vulnerability of patients and the importance of life-saving professionals and equipment require effective security solutions. The COVID- 19 pandemic has underscored existing and new security concerns and the need for innovative cost-effective solutions. It is so important to ensure what you decide on a solution today, will be viable tomorrow.

Access control is key to providing safety and security to healthcare facilities, managing access to restricted areas thereby helping to protect people, equipment and supplies and mitigate the spread of disease. And, while it’s important to understand and address each facility’s unique needs, it’s essential to implement smart IP solutions that offer flexibility, scalability and the ability to integrate with other systems and solutions.

The result? By implementing forward-thinking, smart IP solutions you can effectively address the inherent security risks associated with healthcare facilities and gain the flexibility to adapt to new challenges like those presented by COVID-19, as well as potential future crises.

This article originally appeared in the January February 2021 issue of Campus Security & Life Safety.

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