Experts say it’s crucial to evaluate hospital safety plans in wake of Chicago shooting

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — The mass shooting at Mercy Hospital in Chicago that left a police officer, a doctor and a pharmacy resident dead on Monday is drawing to attention the importance and difficulty of keeping hospitals safe.

Safety experts say hospitals are already challenging to keep secure because they are designed for their doors to be open to the public. Modern hospital design has only made that task even more difficult.

“These hospitals are large campuses, so you’ve got so many entryways that you need to think, 'How do we lock this down? How do we stop the flow of people in or out depending on what you need at that location?'” Kathy Guider said.

Guider is the vice-president of Carmel-based investigation and research firm Veracity, but she previously spent 23 years as a special agent with the FBI. She was also a member of a national task force designed to evaluate hospital safety.

She emphasizes that cutting down on which entrances are open to the public, creating an “active shooter action plan,” and practicing that plan regularly are paramount for hospitals to maintain security.

“Prior planning is going to be your best weapon for all your employees so that they know where to go, what to do, it’s natural to them. But it’s one thing to have a plan to put it into writing and say, 'Employees, here it is.' The next thing you need to do is put it into practice,” she said.

Here in Indianapolis, hospitals like those with IU Health are already putting that advice into practice.

Since 2015, IU Health has had its own police force comprised of more than 60 officers who train at the Indiana Law Enforcement Academy. They also utilize discreet metal detectors, surveillance cameras, and other security measures that director of protective services Joe Anderson said he’d rather not share. Various staff and crew also undergo active shooter training regularly.

“We’re training almost every week on how to respond to that type of event,” Anderson said.

While mass shootings at hospitals are still a rare occurrence, a recent study found up to 38% of health workers will suffer physical violence at some point in their careers. Another study also found that between from 2000-2012, 154 incidents of gun violence were reported on hospital grounds.

Guider and Anderson both say ultimately hospital officials and employees have to come to grips with the fact that gun violence is a potential reality at hospitals and that it’s important that everyone is prepared for it.

“This should be an ongoing yearly review, your team, your hospital, your location should look back at the year, 'What incidents did we have? And how can we improve our response going forward?'” Guider said.