Healthcare News & Insights

Impostors infiltrate hospitals: How to keep patients and staff safe

How tight is the security at your hospital? Could someone posing as a nurse or doctor just walk right in and get to patients? Keeping staff and patients secure from this kind of threat can be challenging. But if anything bad happens, your hospital can be on the hook if it was caused by a lack of security. 

rbmp_10You may not think it’s easy for someone to come into your hospital and impersonate a doctor or a nurse, but it happens at hospitals all the time.  If the person looks the part, they can manage to get access to hospital rooms, patient records and medications, among other frightening scenarios.

And the impostor can wreak havoc before being caught.

Two recent cases illustrate the importance of having proper security protocol in place to prevent this situation from causing harm to patients.

Pain meds were her target

In the first case, which took place at Swedish Medical Center in Seattle, a mysterious woman somehow gained entry to a patient’s room. The woman, wearing an outfit similar to nurses’ scrubs, tampered with a machine administering pain medication to the patient as he slept.

Eventually the patient awoke and asked the woman what she was doing. Using medical terms, she said she’d get his nurse and left the room. Once the nurse arrived, she found that the lines to his machine had been cut, with the medication leaking onto the floor. The machine also had pry marks on it, as if the person tried to get to the medication inside.

Before leaving the hospital, the nurse impostor entered a second patient’s room and cut the line to that person’s pain medication as well. She somehow managed to escape the hospital undetected, taking with her two feet of tubing.

Faker posed as student, nurse

Another case of an impostor gaining unauthorized access to a hospital took place at Billings Clinic, a hospital that’s a part of St. Vincent Healthcare system in Montana. There, in several instances, a woman posed as a neonatal intensive care unit nurse, the director of nursing and a student.

The woman frequently dressed in blue scrubs or a lab coat and would go on rounds with physicians, although hospital authorities claim that she didn’t have any direct contact with patients.

Representatives for the hospital said that the woman didn’t originally arouse suspicion because she acted as if she was familiar with medical terminology and spoke as if she belonged there.

Tight controls & common sense

Thankfully, in both of these cases, neither patients or staff were hurt. But if someone’s bold enough to tamper with hospital machines or talk shop with doctors, who knows what they could be capable of if left to their own devices?

It’s clear there was a security breakdown that allowed these incidents to happen. Bottom line: Any staffer who enters a hospital should be authorized to be there, and security officers should be checking out anyone that looks strange, particularly if they’re wearing clothing like scrubs or lab coats, but don’t have the proper ID displayed on them.

Both these impostors demonstrated fairly extensive knowledge of medical terminology and used that to talk their way into hospital rooms. Stress to your security staff that, no matter how knowledgeable they sound,  people can’t be let into hospitals without the appropriate credentials.

The same care should be taken with patient visitors. All visitors should be encouraged to sign in and wear badges or stickers identifying them as visitors before being allowed into hospital wards.

Security measures like metal detectors and video surveillance systems can also be helpful in keeping hospital buildings secure, but training your security people and staff to be alert and speak up if anything looks strange is a key prevention measure.

Security staffers should trust their instincts and confront anyone who looks suspicious or unfamiliar (keeping in mind the safety of those around them). Encourage hospital staff to bring their concerns to security guards or other authorities as well.

If, despite your best efforts, a similar situation happens at your hospital, it’s best to inform authorities right away. In the Seattle incident, the hospital waited until four days later to contact the police. By then, crucial evidence is usually lost, and it’s harder to find and punish the person responsible.

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