Integrated Security Solutions Lead to Smarter, Safer Hospitals
- By Paul Baratta
- May 23, 2022
A combative walk-in takes a swing at security staff. A distraught stranger attempts to abduct a newborn. A clueless motorist blocks the ambulance lane. An addict jimmies the lock on a medical cart. A high-risk patient falls out of bed. There’s a fender bender in the parking lot. An intruder sneaks into an operating theater. Hospitals face a daily array of security issues.
Surveillance cameras alone are insufficient to help security staff address all these challenges. That’s why many hospitals are taking a more integrated, layered approach to their security posture. By linking intelligent video with network audio and access control, they’ve created smarter and safer environments for their staff, patients and visitors. They’ve been able to become more proactive in dealing with security problems, as well as improve patient care and overall hospital management.
Layered Problems, Layered Solutions
With video analytics able to instantly process and analyze images with surgical precision, hospital staff receive actionable information in real time. Audio analytics, the intelligent ears of an integrated solution, add another valuable layer of immediate awareness. They can instantly alert hospital staff to threats like verbal aggression, breaking glass and gunshots so staff can react more quickly and decisively to the situation. Introducing artificial intelligence (AI) and deep learning into their systems is helping hospitals anticipate and safeguard against things like patient falls and other hazards.
Hospital security managers are drawing insights from their surveillance systems to help improve overall safety and security, as well as dispatch resources more effectively. For instance, in choosing to deploy intelligent cameras at lower-risk entrances, they’re able to free up manpower for more critical locations like behavioral wards and emergency rooms. They’re adding audio analytics to provide early warning of potentially explosive events so that they can intercede and diffuse the situation before it can escalate out of hand.
Hospital healthcare managers are finding that the technology helps them assess and mitigate risks, oversee adherence to patient care standards and plan staff allocation. In the event of a contagion surge, cameras and two-way audio system allow clinical staff to observe patients remotely, maintaining quality care while minimizing the risk of face-to-face interaction. With workforces shrinking and fewer candidates for hire, tele-sitting and patient watches have put undue strain on resources. Networked
security solutions turn the tide by enabling reduced staff to safely monitor multiple patients simultaneously.
To help you appreciate the broader contribution an integrated security systems approach could make to your hospital operations, let’s look at a few innovative applications.
Reducing Workplace Violence
Hospitals are no strangers to workplace violence. Healthcare workers are easy targets for patient and visitor frustration, rage and aggression. In fact, workplace violence is four times higher for hospital staff than any other profession—everything from verbal abuse to physical assault. This has led to a rise in stress-related absences and burnout, which has been further compounded by the strain of coping with the COVID crisis.
To counteract the problem, many hospitals equip their surveillance cameras with intelligence audio analytics to instantly alert security staff to the sounds of aggression, breaking glass or gunfire. Identifying the type of threat helps security intercede more quickly and defuse or contain a potentially dangerous situation before it escalates.
Linking network cameras with access control systems adds another layer of protection. When security staff receives an alert that someone has entered a restricted area like an operating theater or pharmacy, they can visually verify whether that individual is authorized personnel or an intruder with nefarious intent. Adding a network audio system to the solution takes violence deterrence a step further by allowing security to broadcast a verbal warning over network loudspeakers to anyone engaging in unsafe behavior.
Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Hospital in Los Angeles deployed this integrated systems strategy to reduce the number of violent incidents in their medical center. Coupling their video cameras with intelligent audio detection in high-risk areas like the emergency room, lobby and cafeteria gave security unprecedented awareness of volatile situations like active shooter and verbal aggression. Instead of waiting for someone to report an incident, sound analytics instantly alert on certain acoustic variations such as volume, inflection and tone that indicate aggression or weapons fire.
“Now, instead of learning about the problem after it’s already escalated to violence, security gets notified as soon as aggressive sounds are detected,” said Mark Reed, director of the hospital’s support services. “It really reduces security’s response time.”
Since instituting this new technology, the hospital has seen the number of violent incidents drop by nearly 48 percent. With decreased escalation, worker compensation claims are down, as are lost time and injury rates among staff. Reed reports that their retention rate for nursing staff is on the rise as well.
To fend off accusations of misconduct, some hospitals are equipping their public safety officers, emergency responders and ambulance/transport staff with body worn cameras (BWCs) to document their interactions with patients, visitors, and the public. These wireless-network cameras are like those used by law enforcement and serve to defend against complaints and reduce the risk of costly litigation.
To allay concerns about HIPAA compliance and individual privacy, your hospital should implement the same measures for handling BWC footage as you do for any other video and audio captured by hospital cameras and stored on hospital servers. This would involve instituting strict policies and procedures for access and configuring the video management system to only permit HIPAA-compliant personnel to watch streaming video and review archived footage.
CoxHealth, the premier healthcare system in southwest Missouri, recently enhanced their integrated security solution with wearable surveillance for their safety and security officers to help them dial down workplace violence.
“There’s always been violence in healthcare, especially patient-generated violence,” said Alan Butler, System Director for Public Safety and Security at CoxHealth. “But over the last couple of years, we’ve seen the level of violence and aggression escalate exponentially.”
Officers say that when someone sees they’re being recorded, it often helps to de-escalate confrontations. Having the BWC footage also helps the hospital quickly dismiss frivolous and false complaints against officers. Officers regularly review their recorded interactions to help them improve their future responses to incidents of workplace violence and aggression.
Improving Patient Care and Safety
To maintain high-quality care in the face of staffing shortages, many hospitals are relying on integrated security systems to assist caretakers in closely monitoring multiple patients in high-risk areas like ICUs, maternity floors, psych wards and rehabilitation centers, as well as critical equipment like ventilators and dialysis machines. For instance, staff can discretely watch patients with dementia, mental health and substance abuse issues remotely to avoid increasing their agitated state. Intelligent cameras linked with patient positioning sensors and bed exit alarms can immediately alert medical staff to patients in distress or in danger of falling out of bed. And video intercoms can provide reassuring communication between non-critical patients, their visitors, and staff.
Olomouc University Hospital in the Czech Republic used integrated security technology to create a new way for mothers and their premature and ill newborns to bond despite the barrier of an incubator. They installed lightweight video cameras atop each incubator and linked the cameras to a secure video management platform.
They issued parents and other family members a unique access code to log onto the livestream of their infant that runs 24/7. Authorized medical staff can also log onto the cameras to monitor their patient’s vitals. To protect patient and family privacy, the hospital doesn’t record and store the video.
“Mothers and other relatives who meet for ‘incubator streaming’ appreciate very much that they can monitor the child’s progress each day with their own eyes, which further strengthens their bond,” said Dr. Lumír Kantor, Ph.D. and chief physician in Olomouc’s newborn department.
Limitless Challenges, Limitless Solutions
There are clear advantages to taking an integrated systems approach to hospital safety and security. Employing a mix of technologies—video cameras, analytics, sensors, intelligent audio, access control and more—can help your facility be more proactive in detecting threats and mitigating risks. It can help you maintain high-quality patient care in the face of shrinking staff and increased patient loads. With multiple technologies working together, you not only acquire better situational awareness and capture critical forensic evidence of events, but you now have both a mechanism for holding everyone accountable for their actions and a training tool for future interactions. And this provides a strong foundation for meeting today’s challenges—and whatever might be coming down the road.
This article originally appeared in the May / June 2022 issue of Campus Security & Life Safety.