Hospital hikes security

By By Rochelle McConkie

By Rochelle McConkie

University Hospital officials are taking steps to increase security measures when treating inmates following the June shooting of a Utah Department of Corrections Officer in Research Park.

Officer Stephen Anderson was shot and killed by inmate Curtis Allgier, who was undergoing an MRI at the U Orthopaedic Center. The hospital now requires two officers to be present during inmate visits. Previously, hospital policies only mandated that one officer be present.

Out of the 900,000 patient visits that go through the university hospital system each year, 4,000 are inmate visits, done in partnership with the county jail and the Utah Department of Corrections.

Although University Hospital spokesman Chris Nelson said this represents a small proportion of total patients, he said the U hopes to reduce the number of inmates coming to the hospital.

Through cameras and high-speed Internet connections in the Utah Telehealth Network, inmates can receive medical examinations on-site at the county jail or corrections facility, that broadcast into the hospital.

These kinds of remote visits would often happen for follow-up care after surgery or more minor examinations.

“This won’t completely eliminate inmates coming to the hospital, but we hope it will reduce the number of visits,” Nelson said.

The U is working with both the county jail and state Department of Corrections to consolidate policies regarding inmates and make sure all parties are informed on correct security procedures.

Nelson said the U wants to make sure its policies match prison or jail policies so, for example, doctors are not asking corrections officers to remove a patient’s handcuffs if the patient needs to be restrained.

Although Nelson said the June 25 shooting was a chance for hospital officials to re-evaluate security policies, he said this situation was not so much a security issue from the U’s position as it was for the corrections workers.

Already in the hospital as part of standard security protocol, police are stationed in the emergency department and more than 200 cameras are placed throughout the vicinity to monitor activity.

Nelson said this situation was different, though, because the patient was already in police custody.

“People want to compare this to Virginia Tech, but this is a very different situation,” Nelson said.

Though different, the shooting — which marked the first known homicide on the U campus — did raise questions as to whether the U would be ready for a situation like the shootings in Blacksburg, Va.

Because Allgier fled downtown immediately following the shooting, campus remained open throughout the day.

“We got lucky in this case,” Nelson said. “Had he chosen to stay on campus…the decisions would have been made to lock down campus.”

But shutting down an entire university is easier said than done, U officials said.

Although the campus security task force, created in early June by U President Michael Young, is looking into how to best prepare the U for emergency situations, many questions remain as to how the U would respond.

Nelson was appointed to the task force to represent the hospital following the shooting.

Law professor Wayne McCormack, who heads the task force, said he hopes to issue information sheets by the start of the school year advising what to do if a person encounters a weapon or a dangerous situation on campus.

While the U is looking into e-mail and text messaging as methods of alerting students and faculty in case of an emergency, McCormack said he is skeptical of these techniques.

“Personally, I don’t want to do anything with text messaging, because I don’t want to shut down the cell phone system,” McCormack said. “It could overload so that people in trouble can’t make a phone call.”

McCormack said similar situations happen when the university tries to send a mass e-mail, often slowing down the campus computer server for a few hours.

“You have to be careful,” McCormack said.

U spokeswoman Coralie Alder said the U has been looking at the security measures of other universities to decide what its best options are.

“No final decisions have been made yet,” Alder said.

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Lennie Mahler

U Hospital officials increased security for inmate patients following a June 25 shooting, in which an inmate taken to the U Orthopaedic Center for back pains gained control of a corrections officer’s firearm and fatally shot him.