Climate of complacency: Administration cannot assure hospital security

At least twice in two months, staffers at Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center saw two different acts of violence.

At one point in the beginning of April, police say a man, who we've learned was a patient, caused $10,000 damage inside the hospital. In March, a worker was mugged in a robbery that started in the parking garage.

That worker did not want to be identified.  "I don't think I"ll ever get over it," she said.

It happened about 6:00 a.m. March 13.  She was jumped by a man who ran off with her purse.

"Every night I wake up in the middle of the night.  It's just an awful feeling," she said.  "Could've been worse. I guess he could've killed me but... I don't know. But I do know I don't feel safe."

 

Administrators at the hospital say one more guard was hired as a result of that mugging, with a dozen unarmed guards on staff.  They are paid an hourly wage in the low teens.

"I guess he could've killed me but...I don't know"

With the security they have now, administrators say they're doing a good job keeping people safe.

Some staffers might disagree.

"Everyone wants more security, everybody," Pat Corasro said.  Corsaro is the head of security at the hospital.

Two years to the day before that worker was mugged, a petition with nearly 30 signatures, was submitted to hospital administration.  The i-Team has the petition, where workers demanded action to secure the hospital's entrances and monitor visitors.  Some staffers say little, if anything has been done.

Pat Bradley is the Director of Emergency Management.

"What we try to do is to maintain a safe campus without making it look like it's a military style of a presentation," Bradley said.

The hospital is considered "an open campus" with eleven entrances that are open and accessible to the public.

Only the emergency room is open after 9:00 p.m.  A dozen unarmed security guards are on staff, spread out over three shifts.  No one is keeping track of visitors.

 
The Bureau of Labor Statistics says between 2011 and 2013, the majority of workplace assaults were in the healthcare setting. Not only does hospital administration agree with the statistic, they believe some employees sometimes "go postal."

"How do you assure staffers they're safe in this hospital," reporter Ed Drantch asked.  He was met with silence.

"You can't assure anyone's safety, anywhere," Corsaro finally answered.  "All you can do is guide them, give them tools, make them aware..."

Drantch questioned, "can you understand why that's going to be alarming for so many people walking in and out of this hospital?"

Silence, again.

"What would the answer be," Corsaro questioned.

Walking the Halls

We sent in our investigative producer, undercover, to see if or when she would be stopped.

She walked the halls of the hospital one weekday this month, without being stopped and without being questioned.

Five minutes and 20 seconds after getting out of her car, our producer finds herself in the Hodge Building where gastroenterology patients were treated.

It doesn't stop there.  We sent our producer back in, a second time, another day.  We found she could get virtually anywhere, without a problem.  The producer walked through a dark, empty floor that was unlocked.  She also walked all around the cardiac floor.

"I know people walk through the front door and if they're going to see their mother on the medical floor, they walk up there by the nurse's station and go right to their mother's room."

She was only stopped when a nurse said she looked lost.  She was only stopped when it could have been too late.

Corsaro, the head of security, refused to see the video when confronted during a scheduled interview.

"I know what happens here," he said.  "I know people walk through the front door and if they're going to see their mother on the medical floor,  they walk up there by the nurse's station and go right to their mother's room.  It's been like that forever."

We wondered if status quo was good enough.

"That's a question we're always asking ourselves," Bradley said.

"You just don't know," Corsaro said.

Guidelines from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA, note unrestricted movement of the public, along with poorly lit corridors and parking lots creates a risk for workplace violence in hospitals.

Between 2011 and 2013, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the majority of workplace assaults were in healthcare settings.  

 
Words and actions are two different things. It seems there is a disconnect between what administrators have and what they say they do.

While OSHA does not require hospitals follow their guidelines, it suggests door locks, metal detectors and panic buttons, be installed to minimize the risk of violence.  OSHA says physical barriers and guards should also be used.  

At Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center, a limited number of panic buttons are being used, with plans to add more.

"Things are different from year to year in regards to activities... violent activities," Corsaro said.  "The world is changing, he admitted."

Yet the hospital has an 'open campus.'

"So let me ask you this, the other hospitals you've spoken with, the situation is much different at those," Bradley questioned.

Policies at other hospitals

 

At Erie County Medical Center, dispatchers are watching more than 600 cameras.  They track visitors' whereabouts with a photo documentation system.  ECMC has a force of more than 40 armed peace officers and 30 security guards.

"Before you could walk around and you had free access to walk certain areas of this building, and we're really looking at that," said Craig Hanesworth, the Director of Security.  "We've really limited where the public can go."

ECMC isn't immune to violence.  In June, 2012, a doctor shot and killed his ex-girlfriend on campus.  She, too, was employed by the hospital.

 
Could the March mugging have been prevented?

Police went on a nationwide manhunt, until the doctor's body was eventually found in Lakeshore.  

Most changes in security were made after that shooting.  

ECMC is also the region's only level one trauma center, treating victims of gun violence.

"The need is there to have a higher level of security," Hanesworth said.  

On the 12th floor of the new Oishei Children's Hospital, the public has access to the family waiting area.  If you're trying to get into a patient room, you're met with additional safety measures.  The doors are locked and there's an intercom with a camera.  Cameras are monitored by nurses on the floor. It's like this on every floor, system wide.  

"To go upstairs to a patient floor you'd have to pass through security," Joseph Scioli, the Director of Security at Kaleida Health, said. 

He has 60 officers on the medical campus alone, with four guarded posts throughout Children's Hospital.

"We need to identify everyone coming into our hospital," Scioli said.

At the main entrance, visitors are checked in with government ID.  A system is used that does a live check of a sex offender registry.  If cleared, visitors are given yellow passes with their picture.

"We're a hospital that survives on a very thin margin of being to meet our expenses. We do the best we can with the resources we have."

Back in Niagara Falls, administrators say they don't have the budget these other hospitals have, including the budget for more security staffers.

"We're a hospital that survives on a very thin margin of being to meet our expenses. We do the best we can with the resources we have," Bradley said.  

But are they doing their best?

"It's never the best. It's never the best you can do.  You can always do better," Bradley said.

Bradley said he always wants to ask for more money to do more in the hospital.  

We tried to have that conversation with higher ups, including the hospital's President and CEO, Joe Ruffolo.  We asked for Ruffolo to be in this interview but Bradley said, "he asked us to talk to you."

We asked the two administrators if they felt safe at the hospital.  Both said they do.  

But Corsaro, who is a former law enforcement officer, has had training in emergency situations.  

"So for the nurse on {the third floor} who is concerned about her safety and anyone just walking onto the floor because they're unlocked, how does that nurse feel," Drantch questioned.

"I don't know, you'd have to ask her," Corsaro said.

The victim in that March mugging said she wants more security, "so that people feel safe coming and out...to feel safe again."

Ed Drantch

 

Ed Drantch is an investigative reporter and morning anchor for 7 Eyewitness News. 

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