Flashback: Fake Joint Commission surveyors tried to enter hospitals

In 2005, Healthcare Risk Management reported extensively on a series of suspicious visits to hospitals by people posing as surveyors from The Joint Commission. The impostors tried to gain access to the hospital and they asked probing questions about the location of radiological materials and the hospital's ability to respond to a major incident such as a dirty bomb detonation.

At the time, Joint Commission officials and security experts told HRM that terrorists might have been behind the multiple incidents. Obtaining radiological material was one likely goal, they said, and the impostors also might have been planning attacks on healthcare facilities.

The Joint Commission issued a warning to hospitals after receiving three reports in four months about such impostors. In all three cases, the impostors fled after being asked for proper identification. The law enforcement community also was concerned enough to issue special bulletins warning of the danger.

The impostors' methods suggested they were more than just petty criminals looking to steal laptops, drugs, or financial information, some security experts said. The average person doesn't even know about The Joint Commission or that surveyors could access the hospital, they said, so the impostors must have been sophisticated enough — and motivated enough — to have identified that method through research.

There have been other suspicious incidents that could be related, says Bryan Warren, CHPA, senior manager for corporate security at Carolinas Healthcare System in Charlotte, NC, and president of the International Association for Healthcare Security and Safety in Glendale Heights, IL.

"A number of fire departments have reported thefts of coats and boots, items that could be used to impersonate a firefighter and possibly give someone access to places they could not otherwise enter," Warren says. "There has not been a pattern in healthcare lately, but that doesn't mean anyone should let their guard down." (For the full story on the impostors and how they may have been probing hospitals for terror attacks, see Healthcare Risk Management, June 2005, pp. 61-67, and October 2005, pp. 113-114.)