Community hospitals talk about security in wake of shooting at Brigham and Women's Hospital


WINCHESTER - When the news broke last week that a cardiovascular doctor at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston had been gunned down in the hospital building, the security team of Winchester Hospital and members of the Lahey Hospital Security Council convened a conference call to study the attack and formulate a response.

“We deal with the unexpected on a daily basis, but this was really unexpected,” said Brad Ross, Winchester Hospital’s director of security.

“We determined that it was a focused attack with intent to harm a specific individual, not a random attack. That was the first message to communicate,” said Ross. The next message was to reassure everyone, from hospital leadership to workers on the front lines, that there was a cogent security plan in place to protect them.

Hospitals drill constantly in emergency preparedness, from extreme accidents that would bring a large number of injured people through their doors, to preparation for natural disasters. Most facilities have added “active shooter” training to their list of drills, Ross said.

“In the past eight years, hospitals have created policies for armed intruder response,” he said. “The event in Boston was unique but not unheard of.”

According to a 2012 study by Johns Hopkins University, hospital shootings are relatively rare compared with other forms of workplace violence. The determination of the shooters and the unpredictable nature of these events are a significant challenge to hospital security.

The main challenge, Ross said, is keeping people safe and maintaining the open door policy. By the nature of their business, all hospitals are open 24/7, 365 days per year.

While all hospitals in the area reported having a strong security presence, none of them reported having any sort of barriers to entry, such as safety glass or metal detectors. Ross said he doesn’t know of any hospitals in the state that have such deterrents. Hospitals do use technology such as I.D. badge readers and video surveillance, and most allow access only through the emergency room entrance during late night hours.

Eric Stastny, vice president of operations and chief human resources officer at Emerson Hospital in Concord, said certain areas of the hospital, such as the obstetrician department, require an Emerson Hospital badge to enter.

Staff at all hospitals are trained in crisis prevention, and learn crisis prevention intervention techniques to deescalate situations.

“By doing the CPI training, even if we have a family members who’s extremely upset, we can deal with them,” Sastny said.

Winchester Hospital uses the “Run Hide Fight” guidelines created by the Federal Department of Homeland Security for preparing for an active shooter or otherwise armed intruder situation, Ross said.

“We try to communicate that things happen and when they do, we can respond to the situation,” Ross said. All staff members, from the top leadership positions to front line workers, are given basic awareness training on how to respond to an active situation, and all new employees are shown the “Run Hide Fight” video as part of their training.

“They learn how to get out of the building safely, like a fire drill,” Ross said. “Each employee knows what to do.”

Staff members are also trained in de-escalation techniques, learning how to spot trouble before a violent situation arises. Winchester Hospital staffers learn to communicate by the acronym RELATE, in which personal are trained to “Recognize” a patient or visitor’s concerns, “Empathize” with them,” “Listen” to them,” “Apologize,” when necessary, “Take” responsibility for communicating in a situation,” and “Explain” what is going on. Additionally, behavorial health specialists are brought in along with security personnel when needed, Ross said.

Because of concerns about patient privacy, Ross declined to discuss specific incidents of violence, but stated that every hospital treats stressed individuals who need help managing situations.

Coordination among local emergency personnel is integral to the planning process as well.

“All hospitals over the last 10 years or so have become very aware of the need to have closer relationship with police and others,” Ross said.

Emerson staged a mock active shooter exercise with the Concord Police Department, Stastny said. Patrick Jordan, chief operating officer of Lahey Hospital and Medical Center said staff regularly drills and trains with the Burlington police and fire departments.

“They are great partners and assist us whenever necessary,” he said.

Ross, a Winchester resident since 1989, said he has seen the police department become an active partner with the hospital, planning for active shooter situations in schools and all town buildings.

“It is a really strong community. We are aware things can happen. They are a conduit to help us and the town be safer,” he said.

Originally posted January 30, 2015 by the Wicked Local Winchester