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Posted Jul 31 2010 12:00am

Generally speaking, I’m not a fan of gun control. The scope of the discussion of gun control runs way out of what I can achieve here.

I can, however, say that guns do not belong in the ICU.

Most of the ICUs and hospitals I’ve worked at, from the podunk Our Lady Of Perpetual Guilt to the more modern urban hospitals I spent time in, have tight visitor control. The most secure ICU I worked in had no public entrance; the entry was behind three sets of locked, badge-access doors, and the only way in for visitors was through the security door in the waiting room that led to a second, remote-controlled security door in the individual patient ICU room.

Even outside the ICUs, the hospitals tended to have tight visitor control.

Sunny Flats, on the other hand, lets just about anybody waltz on in to the hospital. We have a “visitor control” desk or two, but they’re understaffed and the guards clearly hate their jobs, as they never ever stop anybody. In the ICUs, the visitors and staff come in the same way, and while visitors are asked to use the waiting room and check before they come back, it’s not uncommon for random visitors to wind up in the ICU with no permission. And even when they become belligerent, the Happy Smiling Patient Satisfaction People refuse to restrict visitation; we had an incident some time ago where a family member pulled a knife and uttered a racial slur against a nurse…and instead of arresting his ass, we “talked to him about his feelings” and let him keep visiting. These incidents are getting worse, and it’s a matter of time until something bad happens.

This came to a head recently. We were presented with a minor gang war in town, and we wound up receiving gang members with gunshot wounds into the ER. One gangster with a GSW was on his way to the ER in his homie’s car when the car spun out and burst into flames against a bridge abutment.

Long story short, we wound up with rival gang members in the ICU. Guns were displayed, not waved in the air but displayed. Threats were shouted. Violence was imminent, and the gang-bangers began threatening the staff and doctors before the police were able to subdue everyone and clear things up a little. One of our RTs was directly threatened by a gangster who said he would “fucking kill your bitch ass.”

The ICU’s went on lockdown. Heavily armed police patrolled our halls. ID was required to enter the ICU’s.


The long and the short of this, I guess, is that visitor control is important. It’s got to be a balancing act. Requiring retinal scans and DNA analysis for every visitor is a little over the top. On the other hand, people want to be with their sick loved ones if they can, even if only for short periods daily. On the third hand, sometimes it’s a sad necessity to have the SWAT team roaming the halls with loaded rifles and smoke grenades.

It’s important to find a mix that is safe, yet permissible enough to not alienate patient families. The urban hospital with staff/visitor separation and individual remote-locked doors seems like the safest I’ve been at. Sunny Flats is the least safe, and it’s a matter of time until someone here gets killed or hurt by a deranged visitor wielding a knife or a gun.

I hope it doesn’t happen, but I know it will. Our administrators say it’s “part of the job” but part of being a respiratory therapist is NOT being gunned down in the name of some asinine albuterol neb. It’s just a matter of time until it happens…truth be told, I’m worried about it.

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