The Key to Keeping Healthcare Facilities Safe and Secure
Providing a safe environment for patients, staff and visitors
- By Paul Baratta
- February 01, 2021
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
• 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
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
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.