How safe is your hospital?

May 23, 2018

Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center is taking some heat for its security - or lack of it. However, the hospital says its security is "as good or better" than facilities of its same size and population.

Credit Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center

In a comparison with Oishei Children's Hospital and Erie County Medical Center, NFMMC this week came up short on security guards, surveillance cameras, restricted access areas and budget.

Niagara Falls' 171-bed regional hospital sees 60,000 patient visits a month in several buildings on its 10th Street campus, plus thousands more visitors who may accompany patients or do business on campus. NFMMC also is one of the Niagara region's largest employers.

However, a purse snatched from an employee walking to the hospital parking lot in March is exemplifing what is being described as a "climate of complacency" compared to Children's Hospital and ECMC. NFMMC Director of Communications and Emergency Management Pat Bradley says while the theft was "upsetting," it was the first such incident in two-and-a-half years, and staff as well as visitors can request a security escort "24/7."

Bradley says a comparison with Children's and ECMC likens apples to oranges.

"Erie County Medical Center, unfortunately, was victimized by a very difficult situation about three years ago that involved a physician and one of their employees," Bradley says. "They responded appropriately by stepping up their security measures, but they are a much, much larger facility than we are and they're located in a neighborhood that I think everybody would agree is a much more challenging neighborhood to have a hospital than Memorial is."

That "situation" occurred in 2012, when ECMC physician Dr. Timothy Jordan was sought for fatally shooting his ex-girlfriend, Jackie Wisniewski, a receptionist there. Jordan killed himself before police found him.

Credit Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center

About half of ECMC's security force is now armed, compared to the dozen unarmed guards in total patrolling NFMMC. Bradley points out that NFMMC guards are not allowed to be armed. That would have to be approved by New York State.

Personally, he believes guards "walking around with side arms sends the message that (Memorial) is an armed camp more than a hospital" dedicated to caring for the community. He admits the guards have a lot of territory to cover, but they are backed up by a "sophisticated" surveillance system.

"We have 80 cameras, and more on the way, that we use to monitor the campus," Bradley says. "Those cameras and online video imaging from those cameras are available at five different locations throughout the campus." Bradley says he never reveals all of the hospital's security measures, as that would compromise safety.

Compared to NFMMC, Bradley says Children's is not only a much larger hospital, but a brand new facility whose primary patients are children, compared to the mostly adults seen at NFMMC.

Overall, he says, safety is a "top priority" with NFMMC. The hopsital is always balancing patient access with safety and is responsive to staff concerns.

"For example, we had some concerns about safety and security on one of our outpatient units, expressed very clearly to Pat Corsaro (NFMMC director of safety and security) about a month ago, and we listened closely to what those employees had to say," Bradley says. "We took a look at the situation. We  took a look at how we can improve the situation and, as a result, our administration recently approved about a $22,000 update to the security system just for that floor, just for that unit."