Do Armed Guards Make Health-System Pharmacies Safer?

As more and more hospitals equip their security guards with guns, health-system pharmacists may wonder whether these weapons should make them and their patients feel safer or less so.

As more and more hospitals equip their security guards with guns, health-system pharmacists may wonder whether these weapons should make them and their patients feel safer or less so.

A little more than half (52%) of hospital security guards currently carry handguns, according to a 2014 International Healthcare Security and Safety Foundation report. This is a jump from a 2011 Hospital Security Survey that found 22% of respondents who were hospital officials in charge of security had their security officers carry a firearm or were considering the use of firearms. Back then, 78% of respondents said they had “no plans to use firearms.”

Some may argue that armed guards would protect hospitals in active shooter situations, while others may worry about the potential risk to patient safety.

Recently, The New York Times reported the story of a 26-year-old patient named Alan Pean who had been admitted to the hospital for treatment of potential bipolar disorder. During his overnight study, Pean sang, danced naked, wandered into the hall, and showed signs of delusions. When he refused to put on a gown, nurses followed protocol by calling security.

Two security guards arrived, and after shouting and a “scuffle,” Pean was shocked with a Taser, shot in the chest, and handcuffed, The New York Times reported.

While hospitals aren’t required to report t instances such as this, more than a dozen events had occurred in the last few years, according to police blotters, court documents, and government health reports.

For some pharmacists, the question of safety in relation to armed guards depends on the hospital setting.

Douglas Jennings, PharmD, FCCP, FAHA, AACC, BCPS-AQ Cardiology, told Pharmacy Times about his experiences while working in various hospital settings throughout his career.

Dr. Jennings is currently a clinical pharmacy manager at New York-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center, where the guards are not armed, and yet he feels very safe walking around the vicinity of the hospital.

“Given that this location is not dangerous (at least by my standards), I would not feel more safe if they were armed, as this would only be useful in the rare event of an active shooter,” Dr. Jennings said.

However, he has also worked at an urban hospital in downtown Detroit—an area that felt more dangerous to him. For that reason, he did not leave the hospital campus unprotected at any time.

“I would personally not have felt safe working at that hospital unless the officers were armed, given that the potential for violent crime was very high,” Dr. Jennings said, noting that the Detroit hospital had its own armed police force instead of security guards. “I suppose that my stance varies depending on the location of the hospital and surrounding area.”

He also stated that he would feel more comfortable if the individual who was armed was a law enforcement officer, rather than a security guard.

Like Dr. Jennings, Craig Cocchio, PharmD, BCPS, an emergency medicine clinical pharmacist at Trinity Mother Frances Hospital, has worked in hospitals both with and without armed guards.

However, he currently works in a health system that allows security guards to carry guns.

He noted that the emergency department frequently has law enforcement officers present for a variety of reasons, in addition to the armed security.

“Personally, I never thought of my safety being any different with or without armed security guards,” Dr. Cocchio said. “Reading The New York Times article does make me question the safety of patients, particularly the psychiatric population.”

Beth Lofgren, PharmD, BCPS, who has practiced in home health, long-term care, and hospital pharmacy, told Pharmacy Times that she currently works in a health system that has security guards whose guns are in plain view.

“I feel much safer knowing that armed guards are located on our campus,” Dr. Lofgren said. “It makes me feel safer because if someone came on campus armed, our guards would be able to neutralize the threat better if armed.”

The area where her hospital is located is known for gang violence, which is another reason why armed guards make her feel safer, she said.

A 2015 Healthcare Crime Report released by the International Healthcare Security and Safety Foundation suggested that violent crime in hospitals is on the rise. According to the report, the violent crime rate per 100 hospital beds increased from 2 in 2012 to 2.8 in 2014.