Armed guards may surround the entrances to Long Island Jewish Valley Stream beginning in 2019, if pilot programs at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset and at Long Island Jewish Medical Center in New Hyde Park are successful, Steve Bello, LIJ Valley Stream’s executive director, announced earlier this month.
“I think the variability in that is just to make sure that the pilot’s been done long enough,” he said, “to get some real adequate data as to whether or not the patients feel safe, the staff feels safe, and there’s no unexpected incidents that have occurred.”
Security guards who are former law enforcement would be the first to get firearms, according to Bello. The remaining guards would receive extensive training in the use and care of weapons before the program was implemented. The firearms would be the same Glock 9mm pistols, holsters and ammunition carried by local law enforcement officers.
Guards would need to have or obtain valid carry permits, and the hospital would issue guidelines for firearms use, according to Lloyd Jarrett, LIJ Valley Stream’s security director. “We intend to utilize these resources and institutional best practices,” he said.
Any guards who were hired after the program took effect would be required to have valid carry permits, but not all of the hospital’s guards would be armed. Weapons would be issued by hospital security, and each of the facility’s 17 entrances would have an armed presence, Bello said.
He added that the matter has been discussed with employees, who had previously expressed an interest in boosting security at the hospital, and with his community advisory board. “The community representatives that I spoke to were in favor” of the move, Bello said. “I think when there is an incident that occurs and gets a lot of publicity . . . people remember that very well, and I think that’s what sticks in your heads.”
The move comes in response to shootings at hospitals outside the Northwell Health system, including the 2017 shooting at Bronx-Lebanon Hospital Center that killed one doctor; a shooting in Boston in 2015, when a patient’s family member shot and killed a doctor; and a shooting last year at a New Hampshire hospital, where a patient’s son shot and killed his mother in the intensive care unit.
“Unfortunately, it’s a sign of the times, based on what is happening around the country, and we owe it to our workforce, to our patients and to our visitors to provide a safe environment for them,” said Riza Cioku, LIJ Valley Stream’s associate executive director of support services, adding, “It’s been contemplated for the past couple of years, but rather than wait for something to happen, we decided to take this approach and protect everybody in the facility.”
LIJ Valley Stream will also be keeping every entrance except the main entrance locked and installing an optical barrier to force people to go to the security desk to receive identification badges.
The badges will show where visitors are supposed go and display stop signs after 24 hours, so that staff can stop any visitor with an expired badge. “That’s a little bit of a deterrent, but it’s also a tracking mechanism for us, because that visitor information gets put into a database,” Bello said. “If there’s concerns or history from other hospitals about disruptive families or other things with visitors, we can inform each other of that.”
All the upgrades are to take effect in 2019.
“All of these are relatively new changes,” Bello said. “The last thing will be the armed security guards.” They will act, he said, “if somebody is able to breach all of the other security we have, and there’s an incident that we can act quickly.”
As recently as 2014, only about half of the nation’s hospitals had armed guards, although 47 percent of hospital security staff carried Tasers, according to a New York Times national poll.
LIJ is a part of the Northwell Health group of hospitals, which operates 23 facilities throughout the area.