Striking the Balance – Healthcare Security in A Pandemic
As is usual in crisis situations, security has played a prominent role in the implementation of countermeasures to enforce compliance and safety during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Within a hospital environment, where infection control, along with protecting staff, patients and assets, is of paramount importance, there has been an additional challenge to meet: striking a balance between restricting movements and providing a warm, welcoming atmosphere for visitors and patients.
We spoke to Ross Judd, Security Services Manager at St Vincent’s Hospital, Sydney, about what impact Covid-19 has had on his security operations and what measures they have implemented to mitigate risk so far.
Locking down the hospital
Restricting access and screening the large numbers of people who come through the hospital’s doors each day was essential to mitigating the risk of infection and needed to be implemented rapidly, once the severity of the threat posed by COVID-19 became clear.
“We had to limit the access points to the hospital, with a number of entrances permanently locked down. Screening stations were established at main entry points, with health questionnaires for all staff and visitors, and taking temperature readings with a handheld Infrared thermometer.
The first few days
“Our existing Security lockdown plan quickly became merely a preliminary benchmark. Over one weekend the plan changed several times following consultation with the Emergency Operations Centre. As the Security Manager, I found it imperative that I knew all individual access points, pathways and potential vulnerabilities for each building to be able to advise the EOC on what we could achieve and better understand their rapidly changing needs. Like all plans, it needed to be flexible to accommodate alternate pathways as competing issues emerged.”
“Our clinicians use both the screening questionnaire and the thermal imaging camera to make an initial risk assessment of the visitor. If the visitor is symptomatic or has an identified higher temperature the clinician will politely seek further information. At this point, they will be denied entry and staff will then follow hospital protocols as a possible COVID-19 positive patient. Our patients, visitors and the community have been extremely supportive and understand our need to facilitate this process. It has been largely successful because we have strategically located large and clear visual information banners and supplemented with clear audio messages outside the main entrance of the hospital; provided designated pathways to follow and offered staff support and guidance throughout the process.”
Mitigating risk to security personnel
“We split our personnel into two teams, ensuring they never work together and have completely separate workstations. So, if there is an outbreak in one team, the other team won’t be affected, and security operations will be able to continue unhindered.”
This doubling up of resources required rapid set up of work areas, rostering, and access control configuration, all of which required manual interventions.
“There was a lot of behind the scenes work to infrastructure and access control. Hospital wards typically have electronic control and can be locked down to restrict access. A lot of work created was manpower restructuring and reconfiguring access rights to staff.”
Always be prepared for the unforeseen
“One of the most important things when faced with a new set of circumstances, is being prepared to learn and act quickly. Document everything”
“Also good communication is essential. Make sure your staff are fully aware of the current situation, latest information and protocols. In fact, our security personnel have played an important role as reliable sources of the latest information for staff, visitors and patients alike.”
How does the future of healthcare security look?
“I think a lot of the measures we’ve implemented are here to stay and will be finetuned as time goes on.”
“I also believe there is a lot of scope for using technology to improve safety and efficiency. Contact tracing has been quite laborious, in the event that an infected person has been in the hospital, we have to manually review footage to find every location that person visited.”
Where do we go from here?
In the event of a similar pandemic situation occurring in the future, we’ll likely see earlier intervention from biometrics and facial recognition led CCTV tracking people who have been screened, detecting those who have not, and flagging those who are exhibiting a fever. This would also enable rapid tracking of an infected person’s movements throughout the entire hospital and beyond.
It looks as though physical security’s role of risk mitigation in healthcare will also continue to be expanded to the much wider remit of infection control. Arguably, one of the most crucial roles in the healthcare sector.
Following a successful career in the NSW Police Force, Ross Judd commenced work as a Security Manager. In 2002, Ross was appointed as the Security Services Manager, St Vincent’s Health Network and St Vincent’s Private Hospital across the Darlinghurst campus, his current role.
Ross is a member of the NSW Health Security Managers’ Liaison Committee and the ‘Security In Hospitals’ Review Working Party. He has been collaborating with the St Vincent’s clinical team on several projects, including code Black (Violence), restraint and seclusion to improve safety within the Hospital security setting.
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