Reconnaissance Work–Hospital Security

Since my primary work-in-progress (WIP) is a medical thriller, I use every visit to every hospital to research setting and security. Today was one of those days. One of my husband’s duties as a ministry intern while in seminary is to visit church members in the hospital. Since I know two of the three people he would be visiting, he invited me to join him. I hate that people I know are sick, but I do enjoy seeing them get better and helping them pass the time. Since most of our friends are dog lovers, they enjoy the surprise of getting a visit from Gizmo.

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My WIP includes an angel-of-mercy/serial-killer murdering patients right before they are released to go home. I needed to find out how much suspension of disbelief I was asking my reader to accept, or would this crime actually be possible. What I have discovered is that in many hospitals, this crime is absolutely possible.

In many hospitals that I have visited, roamed, gotten lost in, accidentally wandered into secure areas, etc. (“I’m sorry, I was looking for the restroom/cafeteria/waiting room.”) I have noticed that there are few if any security cameras in patient hallways, testing labs, or around nurses’ stations. The newer hospitals do have more cameras, usually in the main lobby and entrance areas, but not so many around employee entrances.

I was also surprised that many of the labs do not have secure access. It was actually harder for me as a teacher to enter the high school I taught at than it was for me to enter the histology lab at one area hospital.  The door was wide open, no one was in the lab or the hallways, and there were no security cameras.

I called a number of friends who work in hospitals to see if they could connect me with the head of security to spend a day observing, and not one of the hospitals I tried would allow it. So I have continued roaming, observing, and trying to see how long it takes for someone to notice I’m not where I should be.

I then talked to a friend who worked for a company that installed security cameras in commercial buildings. I asked him if my findings were in any way surprising. He said not at all. He verified that a lot of the newer hospitals are putting in security cameras as part of their construction, but it’s too expensive for older hospitals to update security. He also mentioned that those cameras may or may not be recording or monitored. As one who has spent a lot of time as a hospital patient, I told him this information was not making me feel more secure. He laughed and said in reality, more deaths are caused by the illness or injury that brought the patient there or by medical accident, than by intentional crime. That didn’t make me feel any better, either.

The good news is that the hospitals I visited today are newer, the staff seemed more aware, and there were security cameras in more public areas than I had noted at other hospitals. So why am I sharing this?

  1. Because I think security is something we should all be aware of. Even under the best circumstances accidents and errors occur in hospitals. Medical staff are seriously overworked and overtired. We must be advocates for our loved ones.
  2. Because although medical angels-of-death are rare, FBI statistics show that they are out there. Unfortunately they usually kill a large number of victims before being suspected and caught.
  3. Because I love sharing what I have learned, and I hope my readers enjoy learning from my writing.
  4. Because…isn’t it scary? And, isn’t this the stuff of a great medical thriller?
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