A measure of security

  • Security personnel are stationed outside Hilo Medical Center’s Emergency Department. (STEPHANIE SALMONS/Tribune-Herald)

HILO — Following an incident in which a Pahoa man allegedly stabbed three health care workers and punched another in the Emergency Department of Hilo Medical Center where he was a patient, additional security protocols have been implemented by hospital administrators to help better protect patients and those working there.

The attack occurred in the early morning hours of March 20.

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By 10 a.m. March 21, security measures for those entering the department had been implemented, according to Emergency Department Nurse Manager Charlene A., who for safety reasons asked that her last name not be used.

A security station has been established, and visitors and patients to HMC’s Emergency Department now are “wanded,” or scanned with a hand-held metal detector, as they enter.

Individuals entering the department by ambulance will be screened, too.

“There’s two points of entry, so we want to make sure we’re secured from both points, from the walk-ins and the ambulance,” Chief Nursing Officer Arthur Sampaga Jr. said

Bags will also be searched.

“We’re also checking to make sure that there are no contraband items that come in with the patient,” said Kris Wilson, assistant hospital administrator who oversees security.

Contraband items include the likes of firearms, knives, lighters, razors, tools like screwdrivers, and used syringes.

“That’s our biggest focus, is to make sure that that area is safe and free from any harm,” Wilson said.

Previously, security was inside, but not at the entrance.

Those protocols have already seen results.

Earlier this month, a Kurtistown man was charged with several firearm offenses after two loaded handguns were discovered by security using a metal detector when he was transported to HMC for an undisclosed medical issue.

HMC, however, was working to improve security before the March incident.

“Overall, we’ve been tightening our security over the past, I would say, year or so,” Wilson said. “There’s always been a focus on looking towards measures that we can improve our security.”

Additional surveillance cameras recently have been installed throughout the hospital campus, and there are a number of cameras in the Emergency Department waiting room areas and hallways to ensure that if any incidents do occur, there’s surveillance footage that can be reviewed, according to Wilson.

The parking lot also has a number of cameras.

“And that’s just to deter people from making wrong decisions,” Wilson said.

The number of security guards has increased, and Wilson said in the next few weeks, HMC will also roll out name badges for Emergency Department visitors.

The response from staff and visitors about changes to Emergency Department protocol has been positive.

“I think they understand the purpose. They understand the circumstance that most hospitals are in at this point, especially emergency rooms where it’s a lot of throughput,” Wilson said. “So they’ve been very patient, and they’ve also been very respectful.”

“And just by observing, they appreciate that they’re being put in a safe environment,” Sampaga said. “So their communication with the security guard is, ‘I’m glad you guys are doing this. This is good.’”

According to Sampaga, metal detection for other hospital entries has been considered.

However, HMC spokeswoman Elena Cabatu said the Emergency Department sees the most patients, “so that’s the initial focus.”

Charlene said that approximately 90 percent of the hospital’s patients come from the emergency room.

“So we’re assisting with that obviously with checking the patients and visitors, and then they go upstairs, so in a sense we are kind of helping the hospital,” she said.

Health care providers are, first and foremost, concentrated on providing care to patients, Cabatu said.

“So if we could have everyone’s cooperation to allow them to do their job and care for their neighbors, friends and family — that’s all we ask for.”

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Security staff has been contracted through HSS.

Email Stephanie Salmons at ssalmons@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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