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 while putting reasonable protective policies into place?
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10 challenges faced by the healthcare industry
COVID-19, still: As summer winds down and school goes back in session, COVID infections are on the rise. For the past few years, COVID-19 has been changing healthcare and healthcare facilities’ security protocols, putting pressure on the system. This is unlikely to change anytime soon as the disease’s variants continue to put people in the hospital and as many people refuse vaccination.
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 hospital visitors.
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.
Increase in opioid addiction: 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 as economic 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 those surrounding abortion and reproductive rights, 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.
Terrorism will attempt to 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, 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 few years, healthcare organizations have been increasingly under threat from external cyberattacks. Ransomware gangs are especially targeting healthcare groups, as well as criminals and disgruntled employees who take 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.
Regulatory changes: Healthcare is highly regulated, but new regulations and changes to existing ones can take a toll on organizations as healthcare agencies attempt to remain compliant. Staying up to date can be costly and time-consuming.
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, evaluating risk constantly, 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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