The healthcare industry faces a dilemma when it comes to physical security: healthcare organizations want their facilities to be open and welcoming, yet they also need to take security measures to keep personnel and patients safe.
These conflicting ideologies — as well as the nature of healthcare work itself — mean healthcare facilities face bigger security challenges than other industries in general. Hospitals care for people suffering from addiction, patients with highly contagious diseases, victims of violence, patients suffering from mental health issues, and often face security incidents stemming from those conditions. Family disputes often occur in hospitals when a loved one is sick or injured.
So, how can the healthcare industry remain open and welcoming in 2022 while putting reasonable protective policies into place?
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10 challenges faced by the healthcare industry in 2022
COVID-19, again: For the past two years, COVID-19 has been changing healthcare and healthcare facilities’ security protocols. This is unlikely to change this year, as the disease’s variants continue to put people in the hospital and as many people refuse vaccination. Because many of those hospitalized with COVID are unvaccinated, we may see healthcare organizations create separate COVID hospitals, as China did in the early days of the pandemic.
Human resource problems: The healthcare staffing shortage is likely to cause problems for current employees, who are working in stressful conditions with fewer breaks than they need. Expect to see workplace violence between stressed employees or employees in dire need of counseling.
Union action: The stressful conditions faced by healthcare providers may cause more unions to strike in 2022. This has been happening since the start of the pandemic, with nurses threatening to strike at Kaiser Permanente in the fall of 2021.
The healthcare staffing shortage: Healthcare professionals are always at risk of burnout, but the COVID-19 pandemic has driven doctors, nurses, and other providers out of the healthcare field in record numbers. A lack of staff is a security problem as well as a mission-critical problem, because staffing shortages can lead to stressed employees, stressed patients, and stressed guests.
Increase in opioid addiction: Although COVID has been the biggest problem for healthcare, the opioid crisis is ongoing, and in fact may be worsening as people turn to drugs during tough times. The crisis is unlikely to abate in 2022 as pandemic and election stresses increase.
Discrimination: As we enter the next election cycle and tensions rise, healthcare may find itself facing internal challenges as some patients refuse care from healthcare professionals they perceive to be different. A patient might refuse care from a black, Muslim, or transgendered doctor or nurse. Conversely, some healthcare professionals may refuse to treat members of different racial, LGBTQ+, or otherwise marginalized groups.
Protests: Recent policy changes, such as Texas’s 6-week abortion ban, will undoubtedly have consequences for healthcare security. Facilities that provide abortion, and even some that do not, have long experienced security concerns from protestors and active shooters. Now that patients will have to travel to obtain abortions — or may attempt their own abortions – problems are likely to increase. So will protests at hospitals as challenges to abortion law heat up.
Terrorism will attempt ro rear its head again: Terrorists like to wait until we’re at a challenging point in our political cycle to attack. As we go into an election year, deal with a pandemic, changing laws, and an opioid crisis, terrorists may consider an attack. Healthcare facilities should be mindful of their security, because they may appear to be attractive targets.
Cyber attacks: In the past three years, healthcare organizations have been increasingly under threat from external cyberattacks. While system intrusion and web application attacks have been the most common attacks against healthcare groups, criminals are also taking advantage of vulnerabilities in healthcare organizations’ digital networks. Those vulnerabilities need to be addressed before they’re exploited.
Infant and Child abduction: With sex trafficking on the rise and more and more divided families, hospitals can expect a rise in the attempted abduction of babies and children. While most abductions of infants do occur in the home, healthcare facilities have seen abductions in recent years.
What can healthcare organizations do?
Healthcare organizations need to adopt an ongoing proactive culture of risk. This means more than setting policies and putting security officers in place; it means investing the time in tabletop exercises, training and testing employees monthly, and working with emergency managers to create plans that will be followed when an incident occurs.
Healthcare facilities are the backbone of every state’s emergency infrastructure; there’s a reason they’re often built on the highest, safest ground in a community. If one hospital is compromised, the entire area suffers. For this reason, healthcare facilities must take every precaution to protect themselves and their patients.
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