Violence Against Hospital Patients by Armed Security Guards

Although we tend to think of hospitals as safe havens—places we are well cared for and looked after —in reality, hospitals can be dangerous places for patients and staff alike. In response to a rising number of assaults in hospitals, many of those institutions have hired armed security guards. While this might seem to be the answer, in some cases, having armed security guards at a hospital can go terribly wrong.

In 2014, 44 percent of aggravated assaults and 46 percent of assaults, occurred in Emergency Departments (as compared to the entire remainder of the hospital). This translates into 42 assaults per 100 Emergency Department beds—or 11.9 aggravated assaults per 100 Emergency Department beds. In 2014, Washington, D.C. hospitals called on D.C. officials to help protect healthcare workers, following a rise in violence in area emergency rooms. Hospital staff felt that a police presence in the hospital could make a difference when patients became violent.

The Causes Associated with Hospital Violence

While it is not entirely clear what has caused the rise in hospital violence, hospital officials cited the growing use of synthetic marijuana substances, linked to psychotic episodes. United Medical Center in D.C. reported seeing about 10-12 violent incidents each day, as compared to the one or two per day seen in the past. A 2013 study published in the Journal of Emergency Nursing, revealed violence perpetrated on health care workers’ costs upwards of $4.2 billion dollars each year. While this number seems extreme, 76 percent of nurses who had ten or more years’ experience stated they had encountered some type of violence from patients in the past year.

Other reasons associated with the increase in hospital violence includes:

  • More gang-related violence;
  • Increased waiting times for patients seeking medical care;
  • An increase in drug and alcohol use in society as a whole;
  • Little availability of acute psychiatric treatment, therefore the ER provides that treatment, to the extent possible, and
  • An overall distrust of nurses, doctors and paramedics among some population segments.

Are Armed Security Guards the Answer?

With an increase in patient violence, is staffing hospitals with armed guards the answer? There is considerable controversy over the answer to that question. The New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation estimates that arming 1,200 hospital police officers in the city would cost $500,000 for the firearms and ammunition, and $700,000 for background investigations, psychological screenings, physical screenings and use of training ranges.

Some hospital staff members expressed concerns about violent patients taking weapons away from armed security guards, resulting in an already-dangerous situation becoming even worse. Massachusetts General Hospital has chosen to arm its security guards, not with guns, but with pepper spray, while NYC Health Plus Hospitals only allow their security guards to carry plastic wrist restraints.

Unintended Consequences of Arming Hospital Security Guards

Allowing hospital security guards to be armed with weapons can have unintended consequences. A recent situation in Houston, TX with a 26-year-old bipolar student, and two off-duty Houston police officers who were moonlighting as security guards left the student with a bullet in his chest and one of the officers being loaded onto a stretcher with a serious head wound. A month prior, an armed hospital security guard in Lynchburg, VA, shot a patient with bipolar illness, and in Indiana and Pennsylvania there are questions about armed security guards using stun guns against patients—including one who was bound with restraints in a hospital bed.

A full 52 percent of medical centers have armed their security guards with guns, while 47 percent arm their security guards with tasers. Many mental health professionals strongly object to weapons in hospitals, saying there are other ways to subdue delusional patients, and, in fact, uniforms and weapons can exacerbate delusional patients. Since a full 23 percent of ER shootings involved someone grabbing a gun from a security guard, the question remains as to whether arming hospital security guards is really the answer to hospital violence.

Contact Washington DC Injury Lawyers

At Patrick Malone & Associates, our injury lawyers have extensive experience representing injured patients and families in Washington, DC metro area, Virginia, and throughout the State of Maryland. If you or someone you love has sustained a serious injury after being assaulted in a hospital or medical facility, we can help. Call us at 1-202-742-1500 or 1-888-625-6645 or fill out our confidential contact form for a FREE Consultation and review of your case.

The injury attorneys at Patrick Malone & Associates have successfully represented injured individuals in Washington, DC, Arlington, Alexandria, Annapolis, Rockville, Baltimore, Richmond, Fairfax, Maryland, and throughout Virginia.