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Politics & Government

Armed Security, Metal Detectors among the Changes Proposed for UPMC Medical Facilities


Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala is recommending a number of security upgrades following the March 8, 2012 shooting at Western Psych, and a report released this week by OSHA on the incident. While the shooting was an isolated incident, Zappala said his recommendations extend to all UPMC facilities in Oakland.

“An issue as far as I was concerned, which is not negotiable, was that there would be an armed presence, uniformed or otherwise, on these campuses,” he said.

Zappala added he has talked with Pitt Chancellor Mark Nordenberg who said discussions are ongoing with UPMC to add 20 police officers to University of Pittsburgh police force. The armed presence recommendation also includes UPMC St. Margaret near Aspinwall and UPMC Passavant in McCandless, though the overall plan is not limited to UPMC facilities. Zappala added the hope is that others would review their procedures and initiate safety improvements where needed. 

Zappala said he has talked with Pitt Chancellor Mark Nordenberg who said discussions are ongoing with UPMC to add 20 police officers to University of Pittsburgh police force. The

Zappala outlined some of the conclusions from the OSHA report, including a finding that violent incidents at Western Psych are on track to double in 2012, going from about one a week previously to two a week this year.

“Knives have been found post March 8, a gun was in the patient area two weeks prior to March 8. Workers are in solo work conditions with patients with criminal backgrounds and there’s a question about the adequacy of review of these kinds of backgrounds when they are admitted,” he said.

Zappala said management has not communicated a clear plan of action to workers in the wake of this incident – so essentially it seems to employees that nothing has changed. This week SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania denounced UPMC for not making security changes in the six months following the shooting.

“While we’re frustrated this has not happened yet, we want to work with UPMC to make sure that these get implemented sooner rather than later, and in our view if they’re not, these are recommendation from OSHA that if they’re not implemented in the future then OSHA would look at fines, citations, and not just a letter,” said Zack Zobrist, executive vice-president of SEIU Healthcare PA.

According to a letter OSHA sent to UPMC, the agency might visit Western Psych in one year to see if safety procedures have been put into place, and to determine if workers are still at risk. Zobrist said in the meantime, the union has been in contact with UPMC officials on these issues through contract negotiations.

“And their response is they had a consultant group looking into these matters,” he said, “we stress that while we are supportive of that, and them doing a thorough review of their entire system, we stress that something needed to happen immediately following this incident.”

District Attorney Zappala said when tighter security measures are put into place, Western Psych should be the priority, followed by other institutions that take mental health referrals. Other recommendations include changing the entrances to Western Psych, making the current main entrance a staff-only entrance, and requiring visitors to go through another entryway that will have metal detectors. He said those simple measures could have prevented the March 8 incident, when the shooter, John Shick, walked into the hospital with two guns.

“If he walked into the building under this scenario the magnetometer would alert, then he’s gotta make a decision right then and there about what he’s going to do and he’s facing an armed presence, so it’s not as if he’s chasing nurses and doctors around that facility, he’s up against deadly force if necessary. Could that lead to a different result? Absolutely,” said Zappala.

UPMC has not released an official statement on the proposed security changes, but Zappala said in talks with officials, they approved of the suggestions and are moving forward to implement them, though no timeline has been set.