Sent by email 10 24 2008
I was contacted yesterday by a colleague, a mental health advocate, who asked for advice about an OHSU survey about giving your security guards pistols and rifles.
For your reference I have been an active advocate here in Portland for persons with mental illness and addiction for over 20 years. I serve as secretary to the board of the Mental Health Association of Portland and act as it’s spokesperson. For more information about our organization, see our web site at www.mentalhealthportland.org. Because we do our business in public, I’ve shared this letter on our web site.
Arming hospital security guards with deadly force poses an immediate and active threat to persons with mental illness, and also to persons who are confused, drunk, disoriented, demented or strange.
OHSU is an emergency hospital and a trauma hospital. It has a large, active psychiatric ward. Hundreds of persons of all sorts and with all sorts of disorders which make communication with authorities difficult come to this hospital every day for help.
And predictably persons seeking treatments from hospitals like OHSU have often waited longer than they should and therefore are in more distress. This economic fact can be anticipated and responded to with compassion, with understanding, and with tactics.
Hospitals need to be a haven of hope, of serenity, of change and of peace for just these kind of people. You have a choice: anticipate distress and respond with compassion – or with gunfire. Which choice matches the mission of your hospital?
From our perspective, adding guns to this situation is never a good idea. It never leads to safety or security. It always leads to a patient or prospective patient getting shot. It always leads to a false sense of security. And security guards requesting pistols and rifles is always the result of under-training and under-management.
The Portland Police Bureau’s policy is officers cannot bring guns into hospitals unless there is a emergency call. This policy is the result of three Portland officers shooting and killing a patient at a psychiatric hospital in 2003.
For the Portland Police Bureau – guns and hospitals don’t mix. OHSU should be no different.
If OHSU does change it’s policy to allow officers to use pistols and rifles while on duty, it is only a matter of time before one of our friends or family members is killed. Our organization would ask our supporters and allies to consider OHSU a dangerous place to seek help and a shameful place to work.
The request by your security guards for weaponry is revealing. It suggests OHSU doesn’t now have sufficient training for it’s security guards and ancillary staff, so they are less fearful of your patients, so they can anticipate problems with difficult or disoriented persons, and so they can respond with better communication or by calling for help rather than shooting one our friends or family members. If this is true, it seems exceptionally risky in our litigious world.
If OHSU wants to provide the best training security guards we suggest you consult with an expert at the Portland Police Bureau who train officers to better manage crisis, including persons with acute mental illness. They have fully implemented and improved the national model program for police management of persons in crisis.
Mental Health Association of Portland
Dr. Robertson responds,
I very much appreciate your input. The matter of armed officers is a very serious one. I honestly do not know what the best solution is. OHSU is isolated and the literature clearly shows that if there is a shooter on campus a delay in response costs lives. There are also those on campus such as emergency personnel whose role places them at statistically significant increased risk for armed attack. On the other hand we do not want to become an armed camp nor do we want to put any innocent individuals at unnecessary or inappropriate risk. I personally do not know how to best balance these sometimes conflicting goals and that is why I have appointed a commission with considerable expertise and diverse representation to study the matter.
Your input will be relayed to them and I can assure you that it will be seriously considered by the commission and by me.
Thanks again for taking the time to express your opinion and concerns.
EXTRA – Oregon Health & Science University considers arming security guards, KGW.com
EXTRA – Public Hearing to Discuss Having Armed Officers on OHSU Campus, OHSU.edu