BANGOR, Maine — Security officials at Eastern Maine Medical Center began screening patients and visitors entering the Emergency Department on Thursday in an attempt to make it a safer environment.
“It’s another layer of security that the medical center has put in place,” Steve Russell, manager of security, grounds and parking services, said late Thursday morning. “We’re being proactive. We haven’t had any incident that has prompted this.”
Those entering the hospital through the Emergency Department doors are asked to empty the contents of their pockets into a bin and put any purses or bags on a conveyor belt, which carries them through an X-ray machine. Visitors then step through a metal detector before they are allowed to continue into the waiting area.
“We are deploying the same type of equipment and security screening used at other hospitals, courthouses and schools,” Russell said, adding that the hospital has not seen an increase in dangerous objects or weapons coming through its doors.
Russell stressed that anyone with a serious medical emergency who needs immediate attention will be allowed to bypass security and will be screened later “at an appropriate time.” Emergency crews also have the option of bypassing security checks if the patient they transported is severely ill or injured.
The hospital conducted risk assessments to determine what areas might require heightened security measures, and found the Emergency Department had a higher risk of escalating aggression and assaults than other parts of the hospital, according to Russell. Between 42,000 and 45,000 patients walk through the Emergency Department doors per year, and that doesn’t include family members, friends or others who might bring someone in for treatment.
“It’s a very emotional setting at some times,” Russell said, adding that people who come into the Emergency Department are frequently under stress, and others under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Other high-risk patients may have been brought in by police.
That has led to assaults on staff in the past and can put other patients and visitors at risk as well. Russell said there have been no assaults on staff involving weapons, but these security measures will decrease the chances of that happening in the future.
“Not having an incident is good,” Russell said. “We’d much rather be proactive than waiting for some incident to happen and say, ‘Gee, I wish we’d done that.’”
The hospital has a six-month lease on the equipment, funded by $12,000 out of its operating budget, according to Russell.
The X-ray machine and metal detector were obtained secondhand from a company that also leased the same machines for the Democratic and Republican National Conventions.
On Wednesday, EMMC was one of 16 hospitals in Maine to earn an “A” in the Hospital Safety Score ratings released by the Leapfrog Group, a national patient safety group. That award did not take hospital security into consideration, but rather focused on clinical safety.
Maine Medical Center uses metal detectors for some “high risk” emergency department patients, people who are brought in by police, for example, according to John Lamb, spokesman for the Portland hospital.
“Security is an evolution,” Russell said. “I know that if you come back a year from today, we will have done something else. We’ll have put another layer, tweaked something we’ve got in place now to make it better.”