Improving Security in Healthcare Facilities
Measures for keeping clinical staff and patients safe
architectural healthcare dividers

By: Dave Warning, Project Manager

Staff and patient safety have become an important part of healthcare facility design discussions—both for new construction and the renovation of existing facilities. It’s a common misunderstanding that security equates to adding more doors and barriers and locking everything down. The better approach is to be intentional in your design and find ways to improve security while maintaining the warm and welcoming aesthetic of modern healthcare facilities.

Mortenson recently worked with a healthcare client to implement design and security upgrades across a wide system of hospitals and clinics. Installing thousands of security devices across the locations proved challenging. But having the right strategy helped the team meet the customer’s security needs while maintaining the welcoming staff and patient environment they’ve worked so hard to create.  

The information below will help you know what to expect while planning for security upgrades and understand important factors to consider when working with your design team and construction partner.

Identifying and Analyzing Potential Security Risks

The first step in healthcare security upgrades is identifying potential risks. With so many variables to consider, it’s recommended to engage a third-party security assessment company. Their teams take a “big picture” approach to facility evaluation and can help you pinpoint potential risks that might otherwise go unidentified. The analysis process looks different based on the facility type and location; however, you should consider these factors in each assessment.

  • Population Density: Security incidents can happen anywhere, but urban areas often carry a higher risk than rural areas.
  • Patient Volume: Emergency rooms and urgent care facilities have a higher patient volume and therefore introduce more security risks than clinics and smaller facilities.
  • Facility Type: Security needs vary widely based on the facility type. Hospitals, for example, typically have on-site security staff to monitor entrances and respond to incidents. Whereas standalone clinics and urgent care facilities are less likely to have on-site security.
  • Visibility and Communications: What equipment and procedures currently exist—or what is lacking—to facilitate communication and ensure prompt reaction in the event of a security threat
  • Staff Training and Awareness: Have staff received training on current security protocols? How much awareness do they have regarding potential threats? 
  • Code Restrictions: Local and state regulations, particularly for egress, dictate building design changes.
  • Operational Workflow: How staff, patients, and visitors use and move throughout each space determines the equipment and level of security needed in that area.

Prioritizing and Implementing Security Improvements

Security assessment teams collaborate with healthcare facility design and construction partners to help prioritize and effectively execute your security upgrades. Since lobby and reception areas often serve as the main entry point of a facility, the priority should be separating these public spaces from patient care areas.

Facility teams can take several measures to increase security with minimal impact on the lobby’s overall design, aesthetic, and operational workflow. 

  • Secure Entry: Optical turnstiles and card readers create an extra layer of protection by limiting who can access specific areas.
  • Interior Barriers: Clear barriers separate reception staff from patients and visitors while maintaining visibility; however, using these barriers in excess can create a less welcoming environment.
  • Visitor and Vendor Management: Issuing ID badges allows operations or security staff to track and identify non-staff entering the premises.
  • Security Screening: Detection systems or on-site security at main building entry points prevent unauthorized persons from entering with weapons.
  • Behind-the-Scenes Security: Cameras and notification devices in interior spaces help alert and protect staff and patients if an incident occurs.
  • Building Perimeter Safety: Concrete bollards help protect the building exterior from vehicle damage. Exterior surveillance methods can also be implemented to improve safety.

Balancing Security with Patient Comfort and Staff Well-being

Healthcare facilities are challenged with balancing patient and worker safety with patient experience while they look to maintain, expand, and improve their facilities. While safety is a primary concern, the last thing anyone wants is a facility that feels like a prison. This is especially important to consider in mental health facilities where patients are more sensitive to their surroundings.

Staff well-being is an additional concern as organizations struggle with worker burnout and turnover. For these reasons, an “out of sight, out of mind” approach to security is critical. Always consider the secondary impacts of security changes and upgrades. 

  • Patient and Staff Experience: Having too many interior barriers block natural light, making spaces feel dark and uninviting. Patient experience should still be a priority in your design.
  • Operational Flow: Security measures should not make it more difficult to navigate spaces or disrupt workflow and care efficiency. Include operations staff in early design discussions and take time to understand the unique workflow of each location before finalizing any designs.
  • Staff Training and Acceptance: Training is just as important as implementing physical security measures. Systems are essentially useless if the staff doesn’t understand how to use them or fails to follow security protocols such as keeping certain doors shut and locked. Additionally, it’s important to recognize that design changes can impact the efficiency of day-to-day work. For this reason, staff are sometimes resistant to changes, even when it’s to their benefit. You can help ease concerns by sharing feedback from staff who have used and benefitted from the new systems. Providing proper training and ongoing support also ensures proper implementation and use of security systems and procedures. 

Phasing Projects and Establishing Standards Across the Organization

Healthcare systems continue to face funding issues, which complicates planning for large projects. Organizations can fit renovations into their budget by prioritizing healthcare security upgrades, then phasing them over time.

  • Phasing: Start by evaluating each facility from a risk assessment standpoint, starting small to work out the details, then expanding to cover more ground. In addition to budgetary benefits, the phased approach helps you set design standards as other renovation and refresh projects get implemented.  
  • Standardization: Develop and stick to standards for systems, equipment, and materials across all sites and campuses. Standardization makes training easier and ensures consistency when doing future renovations and upgrades.
  • Communication: Communicating design and system standards across the organization prevents you from having to modify them retroactively in the future. Align your communication with existing facility standards and find ways to educate staff about the changes, setting expectations along the way. After completing the security upgrades, establish training for facilities teams and patient care staff so they understand how to maintain and implement the new security enhancements.
  • Engaging Partners: It’s important to engage vendors and contractors early in the design stage. While security assessment teams can help you identify risks, they don’t always factor in code requirements such as egress, which heavily affect design choices.

Implementing security upgrades across an entire organization is no small task. But with the right team established, you can have open and honest conversations and determine what’s realistic for each facility. Engaging everyone and remaining in constant communication will help prevent challenges that could affect your project timeline and success. And in the end, you will have a security strategy that maintains a welcoming healthcare environment while keeping everyone safe.

Dave Warning is a project manager focusing on healthcare construction. His 12 years of construction experience includes retail and hospitality, sports and entertainment, security initiatives, imaging suites, surgical and sterile processing, and clinic renovation projects. Dave has a B.S. in Construction Engineering from Iowa State University.

Your partner in healthcare construction

Success takes a systems-wide approach to hospital security. Mortenson’s healthcare construction team works with designers and an internal team of project managers, design phase engineers, estimators, and procurement specialists to ensure each project exceeds expectations.