Friday, May 06, 2005

Hospitals need better security

Another strain on limited hospital budgets is in the making, in a very concerning way:

Intruders try to gain access to hospitals' off-limit areas

In Indianapolis and elsewhere, authorities have reported cases, uncertain of motives.

Associated Press

VALPARAISO, Ind. -- Cases of unauthorized people trying to gain access to restricted areas of hospitals in Indiana and across the country puzzle federal authorities and security officials.

Recently, on the same day an Indianapolis hospital reported suspicious people trying to enter its emergency department, two professionally dressed people carrying clipboards walked into the outpatient campus of Porter hospital in Valparaiso, saying they wanted to tour the facility. The two left when challenged.

Earlier, during a two-week period starting Feb. 26, people claiming to be inspectors from the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations tried to enter hospitals in Boston, Los Angeles and Detroit. The three incidents had no apparent relationship beyond the tactics of the intruders.

Indiana Department of Health spokesman Andy Zirkle confirmed that one Indianapolis hospital had reported an incident but would not elaborate. He directed further questions to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and to the FBI, but neither agency confirmed the incident.

A day after the March 22 incident, a former safety officer at St. Vincent Hospital and Health Services in Indianapolis, Thomas Huser, sent an e-mail to health care security officials across the state saying men had tried to gain access to the emergency departments at three separate hospitals, which were not named, The Times of Northwest Indiana reported in a story Sunday.

Huser's e-mail also said that information found in a car at one of the hospitals indicated one of the men was on the FBI Terror Watch List. He said he received the information from another hospital.

FBI Special Agent Wendy Osborne said information regarding the watch list would not be shared with the hospitals.

Porter hospital Security Director Jim McClanahan said any hospital has to balance security against the public's need for access. Porter has 28 security workers filling about 17 full-time jobs. They patrol outside and respond to reports of people wandering into areas where they do not need to be.

But the first line of security over such a sprawling institution is often the doctors, nurses and volunteer auxiliary members. A member of a hospital auxiliary had cornered the pair that walked into the Valparaiso Outpatient Campus and forced them to leave, The Times reported.

Mark Forstneger, spokesman for the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations, said the intruders masquerading as inspectors more likely were looking for drugs or privileged information about patients than pursuing any plot against national security.

"There are a lot of things that hospitals have that are desirable," Forstneger said.

The joint commission is a nonprofit organization that judges the quality and safety of care at 15,000 hospitals and health care institutions around the country. It receives one or two reports each year of people claiming to be inspectors, the newspaper said.

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