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Hospitals Probing Stun Gun Use

IIT’S NOT SURPRISING that stun guns—devices that shoot probes delivering an electrical impulse that temporarily incapacitates a subject—have long been used by police. In fact, according to Taser International, its devices are being used or tested in more than 7,800 law enforcement, military, and correctional agencies in the United States and elsewhere. Now they are beginning to catch on in environments that might surprise you: hospitals and medical centers.

Taser International’s Steve Tuttle reports that the technology is in use by security departments at 72 hospitals. Tuttle can’t cite historical figures, but stun guns were virtually unheard of in healthcare just a few years ago.

One early adopter was Memorial Hospital in Colorado Springs, which acquired stun guns for each of its security officers more than two years ago after a disruptive patient attacked a sheriff’s deputy and two security officers, says Security Manager Rick Peat. The deputy used his stun gun to subdue the patient, and doctors were impressed.

The hospital’s chief operating officer and legal counsel talked over the various concerns they had regarding use of the devices. But after testing them and weighing the alternatives, they were convinced that they were the right choice.

They chose the Taser from the company of the same name. Use is regulated by strict policies, Peat says. Initial training goes for longer than suggested by Taser. Officers also receive quarterly refresher training on use of force in general. Officers must adhere to the use-of-force policy when deploying a Taser.

Each time a Taser is discharged, the officer must fill out a report, and an investigation ensues. Most Taser discharges occur in the ER, which is monitored by CCTV cameras; the hospital can review the video of those incidents. A committee meets every month to review any incidents in which force was used.

Peat says that Tasers have been fired a number of times, with great success. Disruptive patients have been temporarily subdued without suffering serious injury. “It’s safer for the patient than trying to wrestle them down,” Peat says. Officer injuries have dropped from about eight or nine a year to just one, he adds.

Not all hospitals are comfortable with the technology, however. At Desert Valley Hospital in San Bernardino County, California, officers started carrying Tasers in December 2004 but suspended their use just a couple of months later. “There’s been bad press on Tasers, which caused the hospital some concern,” explains Security Supervisor John Schafer.

He hopes to get Tasers back in use sometime this year after the technology is studied more extensively.

Like Memorial Hospital, Desert Valley had a strict use policy and training requirements. Schafer suspects that many healthcare facilities balk at Tasers not only because of safety concerns but also because they require a well trained user population.

Still, hospitals are showing increased interest. Linda Fite, CPP, security director at Minneapolis’s Fairview University Medical Center, says that various hospitals in her area are on the verge of acquiring Tasers, though administration at her facility is opposed. “I think in some cases, it’s a very good idea, but it needs to be controlled,” she says.