WEST READING, PA May 22 2017
Reading Hospital is adding an armed guard to its emergency department and Fifth Avenue entrances starting Monday, hospital officials announced this week.
The move comes after a long review of security measures throughout the Reading Health System, said Mark McNash, vice president of support services.
He said active-shooter incidents in other parts of the country have forced all institutions to take a close look at security. Keeping people safe is always the top priority, he said.
"We really wanted to ensure that we are a safe and secure environment for patients, visitors and employees," McNash said. "We felt the presence of armed officers who are in specific areas will ensure we are providing a safe and secure environment for everyone who enters our building."
One officer with a pistol will be at the emergency department and Fifth Avenue entrances 24 hours a day, McNash said. They will be employees of WSK & Associates, Wyomissing, and will have training comparable to police, McNash said.
"We really didn't want to be perceived by the community and our employees as a soft target," he said.
A few years ago, hospital officials added metal detectors to the emergency department entrance. He said the move was discussed with the staff before being implemented and has been very positively received.
"As things have escalated in society with active shooters and random acts of violence, we said this is probably the next step we have to take," McNash said of the armed guards. "We really took the approach that we'd rather be proactive and put this in place."
On Monday, the hospital will also debut a policy requiring all visitors to get identification badges. Those badges are available at every hospital entrance.
McNash said the new system ensures all visitors who come to the hospital are accounted for.
In February, the health system announced it was adjusting patient visitation rules and weekend access on its West Reading campus as part of the larger look at security.
At Penn State Health St. Joseph hospital, security guards carry Tasers, but they do not carry guns, said Michael Jupina, vice president of marketing and communications.
"Once you make a decision to carry the tool, you have to deal with the consequences of carrying the tool," Jupina said.
He said the Taser is a less lethal weapon, but it's effective for hospital security.
He said having an armed guard might help in an active shooter scenario.
Still, it's a hard decision to make to bring an armed guard on a hospital campus, he said.
"It's not as simple as whether or not you carry the gun," he said. "It's whether you're comfortable that person may have to deploy that weapon in a patient setting."