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This award-winning blog supplements the articles in Hospital Infection Control & Prevention.

'Boston Strong’ Against Hospital Violence

By Gary Evans, Medical Writer

An incident that shook the Boston medical community occurred in January 2015, when a surgeon at Brigham and Women’s Hospital was shot and killed at work by a relative of a deceased patient. That shocking event, on the heels of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, has certainly instilled a sense of readiness and vigilance in the city’s healthcare facilities.

That said, the open campus of a medical facility cannot be locked down like airport security, so officials strive for a balance between delivering care and protecting patients and healthcare workers.

“The question always comes up do you have metal detectors? Do you arm your staff?” says Constance L Packard, CHPA, executive director of support services at Boston University Medical Center.

She answers “no” to both questions, though her team has hand-held wands for weapon detection if needed.

“You have to weigh what is most appropriate for patient care and keeping employees safe,” Packard says. “I learned a lot from my colleagues in the Boston Marathon bombing – have those tools and be able to put them in place when you need to use them. That’s versus having, for example, a stand-alone metal detector. We see 12,000 to 15,000 people here a day. It’s a very busy place with 42 buildings and hundreds of entrances. It’s just impossible to do that and do it well.”

At Boston Medical, staff are reminded that no incident is “too little” to report.

“We want them to give us a heads up that [for example, a patient] has an outburst,” Packard says. “It gives us from a public health perspective the ability to look at risk. As police officers, it gives us the opportunity to reduce vulnerabilities. In the last year, we have worked with our IT department to put something in the [patient] chart called administrative precautions – an FYI or flag when we have a problem patient or a problem family member.”

As part of the hospital's violence prevention program, Packard and colleagues developed a training video with the scenario of a prisoner brought in for treatment stealing an officer’s gun.

For more of this story see the January 2017 issue of Hospital Employee Health.

Gary Evans has written about infectious diseases, infection control and a variety of other healthcare issues for more than 25 years. His writing and reporting have been honored with five awards from the National Press Club in Washington, DC.