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Study Suggests Use of Police in Healthcare Results in Harm 

27 Nov, 2023 F.J. Thomas

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Sarasota, FL (WorkersCompensation.com) – According to recent reports, around 40 percent of healthcare workers have experienced violence in the workplace in the last two years. Some estimates have shown that approximately 70 percent of emergency nurses, and 20 percent of emergency physicians have been physically assaulted on the job.

The overall level of violence for healthcare workers has been on the rise for serval years. One way that hospitals have been addressing the increase in violence is boosting law enforcement presence. In many cases, organizations have increased their security personnel, however some hospitals are organizing their own police departments. Currently, at least 29 states allow hospitals to form their own police departments. 

Some estimates have shown that around 72 percent of hospitals have non-sworn security personnel, and around 21 percent use employed police officers. Around 96 percent of security staff have access to handcuffs, 56 percent have access to batons. Over half at 56 percent had access to hand guns to use in their jobs, and 47 percent had electrical tasers. In around 80 percent of hospitals, security personnel are authorized to handcuff, and around 50 percent authorize their security personnel to issue citations or make actual arrests. 

In an environment that is charged with taking care of health, the potential use of deadly force presents quite a complex problem as some studies have shown that exposure to police violence is associated with medical mistrust and poor mental health.  

Researchers from both the Department of Neurology at Harvard Medical School in Boston, and the Department of Sociology and Criminology, University of Iowa examined the impacts of use of police in healthcare settings. The researchers reviewed violent incidents reported through US news media outlets from January 2011 to May 2022, and classed the incidents as to whether harm was executed by police or security personnel. A total of 48 incidents across 25 states were included for the study. 

Five domains or classes were determined by the review. The first were cases where patients were shot by police or security personnel, which totaled 17 incidents. Researchers determined that the majority of the altercations escalated due to the patient gaining access to the officer’s gun or other weapon. Researchers also found that the distinction between authority and position were often unclear. For instance, one patient was shot in the chest while in a bipolar manic state, and the responsible security guards were actually off duty Houston police officers. 

The next domain included patients subject to excessive use of force, which totaled 17 patients. In their review, researchers found a case where a patient had been tackled for driving the wrong way, resulting in a fatal traumatic brain injury. 

The researchers found 7 cases where patients were arrested rather than adequately treated. In one case, a patient with paranoid schizophrenia and bipolar disorder came to the emergency department for medical care, however upon slapping an employee the patient was arrested. In yet another case, a woman was arrested for refusing to leave her room, citing shortness of breath. Upon arrest, the woman was escorted outside where she ultimately collapsed and died. Later the autopsy determined that the woman had a blood clot in her lungs. 

Four patients were subject to sexual assault by security personnel. In one incident, researchers found that the crime occurred when the patient had been handcuffed to their bed. 

There were 10 reports in which hospital personnel facilitated harm by the security personnel when they called for help with patients that were perceived as combative. In two cases, nurses were arrested for not following police officer orders. In an additional incident, a valet was shot and killed. In yet another incident, 2 Black janitors were falsely accused of making drug deals, resulting in termination, when they simply been exchanging a key to a building that required cleaning. Overall, the researchers found that lower level workers were more acutely impacted than higher level workers. 

Additional collateral cases included a new born who sustained a skull fracture due to an altercation when the father was arrested at visitation. 

The researchers highlight the fact that clinicians and police officers ultimately have conflicting responsibilities, and call for hospitals to consider instituting policies and training for staff on interactions with law enforcement. Additionally, the researchers mention that due to the prison system disproportionately targeting racially marginalized groups, that this also plays a role in racialized health inequities. The researchers state that by bringing these aspects to the attention of both police and security personnel, as well as healthcare staff, it serves as a means for healthcare facilities to live up to their stated missions of healing patients. 


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    About The Author

    • F.J. Thomas

      F.J. Thomas has worked in healthcare business for more than fifteen years in Tennessee. Her experience as a contract appeals analyst has given her an intimate grasp of the inner workings of both the provider and insurance world. Knowing first hand that the industry is constantly changing, she strives to find resources and information you can use.

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