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The case for Tasers in the hospital environment


With proper training, Tasers can be an effective tool in de-escalating violent situations and protecting patients, visitors, and officers

The case for Tasers in the hospital environment

With proper training, Tasers can be an effective tool in de-escalating violent situations and protecting patients, visitors, and officers

For the last nine years, security officers at Carolinas Healthcare System based in Charlotte, North Carolina have been equipped with Tasers, and the benefits have been noticeable.

"We can definitely see a change when a Taser-equipped officer arrives on scene," according to Bryan Warren, MBA, CHPA, director of corporate security at Carolinas Healthcare System. "Things tend to calm down very quickly."

Warren pushed for the switch to Tasers in 2005, not because of any specific event, but because he felt it was a better alternative to the batons that officers were equipped with at the time. Due to a number of incidents nationally involving the misuse of Tasers, there has been a general aversion to use the device in healthcare facilities. But Warren argues that a few bad incidents have overshadowed the larger number of unreported incidents in which Tasers have prevented violence. He adds that Tasers are a non-lethal option that has benefits over equipment like batons and pepper spray.

"Healthcare is so different than some of the other environments, a Taser really is the best of both worlds as far as what you're trying to do, which is to stop someone without using lethal force," he says. "In an enclosed environment, chemical sprays just aren't viable."

Pepper spray can be problematic because of cross-contamination, particularly if there are patients nearby with respiratory illnesses. Furthermore, pepper spray leaves a residue, which forces evacuation of the area so that it can be decontaminated and interrupts hospital operations. Batons force officers to engage an assailant in close quarters, and can cause more harm in some instances.

"Most physical confrontations are dynamic," says Warren. "When you zig, I zag, and when I meant to hit you in the leg, I hit you in the head, and there's a problem."

In a 2009 study, published in the Journal of Emergency Medicine, Jeffrey D. Ho, MD, an emergency physician at Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis, showed that Tasers could effectively prevent and de-escalate violent situations. Over the course of a year, Ho observed 27 Taser deployments. Of those 27 deployments, 24 were categorized as visual displays of the weapon, and only three incidents resulted in probe deployment. It was noted, however, that Ho received funding from Taser International, Inc., and held shares in the company's stock. A separate study published in 2009 showed that 99.7% of people that were stunned had few to no injuries.

According to Steve Tuttle, a spokesperson at Taser International, Inc., hospital security has long been a purchaser of Taser equipment. Currently more than 225 hospitals utilize Tasers in some capacity. In 2010 it was reported that 150 hospitals were using Tasers.

"It's definitely growing and many of those hospitals that were clients for years have expanded their Taser programs as they've had success with the technology," Tuttle says.

In May, Swedish Medical Center in Seattle announced that it would train 70 security officers to use Tasers on six of its seven campuses. Swedish declined to comment for this story, but hospital spokesman Clay Holtzman told The Seattle Times that the healthcare system spent a year considering that addition of Tasers. He also emphasized that the device would not be used to restrain patients in any way.

"We cannot stress this enough?these tools are never, ever to be used to subdue an uncooperative patient. They are for preventing or stopping violence that is a danger to staff, other patients, the subject themselves, etc.," he told The Seattle Times.


Utilizing audio and video

Aside from developing sound policies and procedures, one of the most important steps Carolinas Healthcare System took when implementing the use of Tasers was to equip all devices with audio and video recording.

This add-on, known as TASER CAMTM, which must be purchased separately, captures audio and video "prior to, during, and after the potential deployment" of the Taser, according to the company's website. Audio and video recordings can be downloaded to a computer via USB cable.

This feature has been vital to limit liability and to improve training among officers, Warren says. The audio and video feeds allow the security department to corroborate events and review the events that led up to the use of the Taser. After it is vetted, that footage is often used as a training tool for officers, Warren adds.

"It really is, in my opinion, one of the best things in a healthcare environment that a Taser program could have," he says.

Training is crucial

Taser International, Inc., offers its own training and certification program that "emphasizes hands-on, interactive, and scenario-based training," according to its website. The company recommends that end users are recertified annually, and also offers training for instructors and master instructors.

Warren says that in addition to the training provided by Taser International, Inc., officers at Carolinas Healthcare System undergo six hours of healthcare-specific Taser training.

"That's our own creation," he says. "We built that after studying the regulatory information out there. We have provided that free of charge as a best practice and a lot of facilities have used that in their research to put Tasers in their healthcare facility."

Warren says the training program revolves around real-life scenarios in the healthcare environment and incorporates the entire spectrum of Taser use, including drawing it from the holster, turning it on, deploying the device, and how to respond to the subject afterward.

Warren has also incorporated live role-playing with actors in which officers actually have to use the Taser in live scenarios.

"Then we pull the video up and say, 'Okay, in this last scenario this is what happened, this is what you did wrong, and this is what you did right,'" he says. "That's proven to be a very effective tool for us."

Healthcare facilities are sometimes hesitant to utilize Tasers because of liability concerns, but Warren says that with appropriate policies and comprehensive training, Tasers can be as safe and effective as other tools, sometimes more so. His best advice for hospitals that are considering the transition to Tasers is not to skimp on training.

"It really breaks down to policy, procedure, and training, and how the tool is used," he says. "You can have extremely high liability if you have people with batons without training, and extremely low liability if you have officers with firearms and exceptionally good training. It really depends on the tools and how you use them."

Although Warren says the hospital averages just two to three Taser discharges annually, the most important figures?the number of incidents that have been effectively defused simply by the presence of an officer with a Taser?is impossible to calculate.

"It gives our officers a lot more confidence as far as being able to go and diffuse a situation, knowing that if things turn physically aggressive, they have the means to protect patients and visitors," he says.

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