BANGOR, Maine — Citing an increase in the frequency of aggressive and sometimes violent patients in the emergency department, Eastern Maine Medical Center and the Bangor Police Department have agreed to place a Taser at the hospital for exclusive police use.
“It’s not a change in practice. Police have been using them for years,” EMMC spokeswoman Jill McDonald said Tuesday evening, adding that police stationed at or called to the hospital have used Tasers to subdue disorderly people in the past.
“It’s really about wanting to make sure that this device is available to [police] at all times,” she said.
McDonald addressed the Taser issue in a communication Tuesday to hospital staff and members of a community advisory group.
“The [Police Department] doesn’t have enough tasers to issue them to all officers and, very frankly, we’d rather have them subdue an aggressive or violent patient using a taser than a firearm,” she wrote.
At issue is the safety of patients, visitors and employees, McDonald said. The communication to EMMC employees noted that a nurse was nearly stabbed this spring by a violent patient who was in the hospital’s emergency department for treatment. No other details about the incident were provided.
McDonald said Tuesday that EMMC has seen an increase in aggressive and sometimes violent patients in the emergency department and that police “routinely must subdue and sometimes arrest patients or visitors in our [emergency department].”
The Taser will be purchased by the Bangor Police Department with up to $1,000 provided by EMMC, Police Chief Ron Gastia wrote last month to members of the City Council’s government operations committee in a memorandum recommending that the donation be accepted.
“EMMC has offered to purchase a taser for the police department because they recognize the benefit to officers, hospital staff, visitors, patients and the suspect during acts of violence that occur” in the emergency department, Gastia wrote.
The Taser, which will belong to the Police Department, will be kept in a locked storage cabinet with access available only to police, he said.
Bangor police Lt. Jeff Millard said Tuesday night that Tasers have been used to subdue disorderly patients and visitors at the hospital in the past, though numbers weren’t immediately available.
“We are going to use it as we see fit. It’s just a tool that we’re going to have at our disposal,” Millard said, adding that there’s no way to predict when a situation warranting the use of a Taser might arise.
“People can be disorderly in bars, at the police station, at someone’s house — or in a hospital,” he said.
In her communication to employees, McDonald wrote that the need to subdue emotionally unstable or aggressive patients is not unique to EMMC.
“Hospitals across the United States are facing the need to treat aggressive patients and many police departments use tasers as the least harmful way to keep emotionally or mentally unstable people from hurting themselves or others,” she noted.