It's a Lock

By Anderson, Teresa | Security Management, March 1997 | Go to article overview

It's a Lock


Anderson, Teresa, Security Management


Hospitals may get the most media attention when gang warfare breaks out in an emergency room or an infant abduction occurs, but more common crimes are the theft of expensive equipment and dangerous drugs from hospital operating rooms (ORs). The aggressive or self-destructive behavior of patients in hospital psychiatric wards is also a constant concern.

The University of Michigan's Medical Center addressed all three problems by installing mortise latch sets that protect property, allow easy access to ORs during surgeries, and prevent mentally ill and depressed patients from seriously injuring themselves or others.

The university's medical center sits on eighty-four acres of the Ann Arbor, Michigan, campus. The complex houses the faculties of the University of Michigan Medical School and seven University of Michigan hospitals. It includes a juvenile psychiatric ward that cares for patients with aggressive tendencies, as well as those troubled by depression. More than 800,000 patients pass through the complex annually.

According to Bill Demarse, a facility management and maintenance specialist who worked with the security department in the selection and installation of the new locks, no serious incidents had yet occurred at the medical center, but hospital security wanted to move proactively.

Prior to the installation of the new locking system, the only hospital latches (devices that release a door when pressed) on the market were nonlocking. This meant that doors with latches remained unlocked while doors that required locks had to be equipped with standard door knobs rather than latches. The only way to lock a latched door was to install a deadbolt lock above the existing latch. However, this approach violated hospital safety codes requiring that all doors have a single release function. A latch and a deadbolt require a person to release two devices before exiting.

This dilemma was especially evident in two areas: the OR and the psychiatric wards. Though security wanted to prevent theft in the operating area, the medical staff complained that they could not scrub down outside the OR because they could not easily enter without touching unsterile door knobs. In the psychiatric wards, nurses were concerned that the required locking door knobs could pose a threat to those intent on injuring themselves. …

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