ShareThis Page

Reports: Western Psych needs substantial security upgrades

| Thursday, Nov. 29, 2012, 1:28 p.m.

Nurses at Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic say they are "fearful of getting hurt" despite some initial security upgrades after the fatal March 8 shootings at the hospital, according to one of two safety reviews that Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. released Thursday.

The nurses said their jobs at the Oakland hospital subject them to a series of hazards on a daily basis, including being approached by patients with knives and razor blades. One patient strangled a nurse through an open medicine dispensary area, the report found.

"Physical security enhancements, such as reducing the size of the medicine dispensing room window, would prevent patients from crawling through the window and in turn mitigate some of the risk," read the undated report by investigators with J.P. Hudson & Associates.

Zappala's office hired the private consulting firm from Beaver Falls and Alexandria, Va.-based Condortech Services to review safety and security at the UPMC facility after former graduate student John Shick, 30, opened fire inside on March 8, killing a worker and wounding five people before police fatally shot him.

Investigators spoke to UPMC employees, toured the facility and reviewed security procedures in the months after the assault by Shick, a former Western Psych patient who Zappala said was angry over what he considered mistreatment and misdiagnoses by numerous doctors.

Shick did not encounter any metal detectors or armed guards, both of which UPMC has since placed in the lobby.

UPMC officials on Thursday did not return calls. In October, spokeswoman Gloria Kreps said the health care giant conducted a comprehensive review of its procedures and identified "opportunities to enhance security."

Zappala declined to comment.

Reducing the size of the medicine dispensary window was a small but potentially important recommendation outlined by investigators in their reports, for which the District Attorney's Office paid $12,000. Hudson is run by a former Secret Service agent, and Condortech, which specializes in electronic security, works with the VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System and the Department of Defense.

Condortech investigators recommend that UPMC spend up to $2.1 million on upgrades, including adding a central command and operations center and emergency call stations; installing ballistic armor at the front entrance; and upgrading the video surveillance system, personal emergency panic buttons and card swipe system that allows employees entrance to the building.

"In the case of the Shick shooting, had he obtained a card from an employee, he could have gone throughout the hospital creating a substantial more amount of damage than what had already occurred," the Hudson report states. The report recommends a swipe system that also requires a PIN number or an employee's fingerprint verification.

"I would hope to see additional resources as far as staff education and training, what employees and staff should do in the event of an emergency. That's a huge component," said Bryan Warren, president of the International Association for Healthcare Security and Safety, a professional group not involved in the reviews.

Warren said dual-authentication access readers are a good idea.

"You have to rely on what you have, what you know and what you are. What you have is an ID card, what you know is a PIN code, and what you are is a fingerprint or a retina. Requiring two of those things is much better than one," he said.

Many of the security issues came to light in June when former Western Psych receptionist Kathryn Leight, 65, of Shaler filed a lawsuit against Shick's estate. Shick shot Leight in the chest and abdomen. Neither Leight nor her attorney, Mark Homyak, returned calls.

Mary Schaab, mother of Michael Schaab, 25 - the therapist who died in the shooting - declined to comment about the security grade recommendations when reached by phone on Thursday.

"I think all the things I'm seeing are positive things," said Zach Zobrist, executive vice president of SEIU Healthcare, the union that represents about 200 workers at UPMC. "You can tell there are real areas that should have been upgraded in the past."

Zobrist said key concerns among employees include staffing levels at night and an upgrade to personal panic buttons. The buttons, which can identify the name and exact location of the person who activated the system, will cost about $883,000.

"Those get into the day-to-day workplace violence issues," Zobrist said. "With the current ones, there are dead zones; they don't always work the way they should."

Adam Brandolph is a staff writer forTrib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-391-0927 or Staff writer Margaret Harding contributed to this report.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.