Wyoming Medical Center is considering and preparing broad upgrades to much of its security apparatus, from cameras to doors to guards, a month after a man entered the hospital through a backdoor and fired a handgun at two employees.
Some changes have already been made while other details of the overhaul are still being examined, WMC officials told the Star-Tribune last week, but the administration and board of the state’s largest hospital have laid the groundwork to better fortify the central Casper campus. Casper police completed an assessment of the building last week, and a second examination by a firm that specializes in health care security is upcoming.
The changes come four weeks after a Casper man who later told police he was overdosing on LSD entered the hospital through a backdoor after midnight on March 4. The man was armed with a handgun and shot a total of seven times at two WMC staff members, hitting neither, according to police testimony. He would later be apprehended and tazed by police in a tunnel beneath the hospital. He told police he went to the hospital to seek help because he was suicidal.
The suspect, Mitchell Taylor, is currently being held on a $500,000 bond. He has yet to enter a plea on charges including two counts of aggravated assault, one count of property damage and one count of using a firearm while committing a felony.
Mike Staley, the hospital’s recently appointed chief administrative officer, praised a housekeeper who first encountered the armed man. He and other hospital officials said staff did “everything right” during the incident, from reporting it immediately to seeking shelter and caring for patients.
“When she saw the shooter, she ran directly to the security desk, and the security desk notified the Casper Police Department,” Staley said of the housekeeper in an interview Tuesday morning, “and they were inside in three and a half, four minutes, which is — “
“Remarkable,” finished Michele Chulick, the hospital’s CEO.
Within several hours of the incident, hospital officials and law enforcement had met and identified issues with “ingress into the building,” said David Hulshizer, the hospital’s security manager, as well as other potential concerns. By the night of March 4, fewer than 24 hours after the shooter had broken in, the hospital began locking all doors into the building between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m., with the exception of the entrance to the emergency department.
Some doors have been identified as employee-only, and the hospital is in the process of upgrading several entrances to allow staff with badges to access them but to otherwise have them be locked. Chulick stressed that those included doors both on the exterior of the building and those inside of it.
Still, the incident raised the question of why exterior doors were unlocked after hours at all, to the point that a man high on LSD was able to gain access to a restricted area of the hospital and was only discovered after a housekeeper stumbled upon him. The officials said the facility was trying to be accessible to patients and families while mirroring the broader Wyoming culture of trust.
“The majority of doors I would say were locked,” Chulick said. “But it is — when you think about the access from the garages for patients and families to come in to visit a loved one after hours, we were permitting that.”
“As most hospitals are,” added Staley. The doors Chulick was referring to, in the visitors garages attached to the west tower of the hospital, were and are still locked after hours and require visitors to either use a badge or to call the security desk to gain entry.
“There were doors that we realized that were there for convenience that we have now locked,” Chulick said.
“Wyoming has been a very trusting state. That’s why you still walk down the street and a lot of people don’t lock their doors,” Hulshizer said. “That’s always kind of been our way of life. Unfortunately, we’ve just seen the level of violence in Casper and surrounding areas, not only in Wyoming but everywhere, just go up, and because of that it kind of brings a new state of mind to things.”
The officials said the hospital’s security is now more careful and regimented in after-hours access; security keeps a log and checks with nurses before buzzing visitors into the building late at night. High-res security cameras are planned for those same entrances, so guards can also see who is at the doors.
The emergency department is now the only unlocked door in the building after 10 p.m., the officials said. Since the shooting, a local law enforcement officer — from either the Natrona County Sheriff’s Office or the Mills or Casper police departments — has been stationed there. That will continue at least until Thursday of this week, Hulshizer said, and the hospital plans to ask the agencies to continue providing security for a while longer.
The emergency department is also the only part of the hospital that has metal detectors and a continuously staffed security desk. Chulick said all patients entering the ED now must go through those metal detectors. That had been a general policy before, she said, but sicker patients could be waved through or gain access in other ways.
The hospital is also looking at new cameras that would allow law enforcement dispatchers direct access to live feeds, so should another incident happen, first responders can be fed real-time updates. Keys will be strategically placed in lock boxes around the outside of the building so officers can gain entry to the newly locked down facility after hours. On top of that, Chulick said the hospital provided its latest blueprints to law enforcement agencies.
The officials said the hospital is also looking at hiring its own security, rather than contracting out the services as it currently does. With its own personnel under the direction of Hulshizer, the hospital could have more health care-specific protection — especially important when dealing with patients who may be experiencing a mental illness-related crisis, the officials said.
Chulick said the hospital was looking at “all options” in terms of full-time security staff, including whether to arm guards. Currently, the hospital’s contracted security is not armed.
Immediately after the shooting, the hospital notified all staff of what happened and held at least two all-staff meetings so employees could ask questions. Counseling was also offered and would later be extended to patients who were in the emergency department at the time of the shooting. The gunman did not gain access to the department but was nearby, and patients waiting at the time took shelter in various rooms.
Staley said the hospital is examining more training that can be provided to staff, including a video entitled “Shots Fired for Healthcare,” on top of materials already provided and drilled. The video would teach a proactive response, Staley said — run, hide or fight. Hulshizer said it was similar to the ALICE active shooter training performed by the Natrona County School District.
The officials said the training wouldn’t include the sort of practice scenarios involved in the district’s training because of the difficulties of conducting such a drill in a working hospital. Staley said the exercises would be broken down by individual departments to discuss and work more extensively.
Staley and Chulick again stressed that hospital staff did “what they’d been trained to do” when the incident happened on March 4.
“We’re just taking it up a notch,” Chulick said, “because we’ve experienced it.”
Follow education reporter Seth Klamann on Twitter @SethKlamann
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