TAMPA BAY - It was an otherwise normal March day in 2008, when Jennifer Latham walked into a Sanford hospital, passed security, and snatched a baby boy from the maternity ward.
Nothing seemed out of the ordinary either in July 2011 near Naples, FL when 53-year-old Christine Moretz went to visit a friend at Physicians Regional Hospital. That is, until her husband tracked her down there and fatally shot her at point blank range inside a patient room.
Just three weeks ago, Eric Strand walked into Bayonet Point Hospital in Pasco County with what he said was a gun under his jacket, according to police. He reportedly threatened to kill a nurse if she didn't give him powerful painkillers.
This latest reported incident comes just as the ABC Action News I-Team was looking at security at more than a dozen Tampa Bay area hospitals.
With hidden cameras, we walked in and walked around at almost all of them unchallenged. We roamed freely from patient floor to patient floor.
When we presented our findings to Bryan Warren, he wasn't surprised. “Hospitals, in general, are not the safe havens that they once were, many years ago,” said Warren.
He should know. He is the president of the International Association for Healthcare Security and Safety. “We are seeing more and more security-related issues reported in hospitals.” The issue of workplace violence was so alarming to the Florida Hospital Association that in 2011, their 57-page report suggested metal detectors to screen patients and visitors.
With our undercover cameras, I-Team producers visited 12 area hospitals in 2012. This year, we revisited those hospitals and three additional ones. We visited hospitals big and small. But only twice were we immediately stopped at the front desk.
In three other instances, a hospital staffer asked if we needed help, but it was well after we were inside the hospital. In every other hospital, we wandered the halls. We strolled past security offices. Walked past doctors and nurses. Past patient rooms belonging to adults and children.
At one hospital, we even walked past a sign stating we'd have to show photo identification, but no one asked. One hospital we entered even had signs warning us we were being recorded.
Ronald Worst is a security expert here in Florida. And says our findings are concerning, especially after the hospital abduction in Sanford. “She [Latham] had no badges. She just had scrubs. She went into a closet. She got dressed. She looked like she was a nurse or even a doctor and walked right in,” says Worst.
One place we couldn't walk right in was at All Children's Hospital in St. Petersburg. We were asked right away to sign in before we went anywhere. All Children's tells us they are working on even tighter security measures in the future, which may include cross-referencing visitor's driver’s licenses with a sex offender database.
Remember that other hospital sign that told us we'd have to show ID to enter, but never did? When we went back on another occasion, we were stopped. But only five days after Eric Strand walked into Bayonet Point in Hudson allegedly demanding prescription drugs with what was later discovered to be a BB gun, our undercover producer went there and freely walked around two patient floors. We were not once asked to show identification or asked what we were there for.
Bayonet Point did not want to talk to us on camera, but in a statement praised how its staff handled the alleged attempted robbery, and stated:
"The recent BB gun situation was taken very seriously. We’re pleased everyone handled the situation as everyone was trained and no one was hurt. The safety of our patients and staff is an on-going priority and constantly under review. As part of this, additional measures are being implemented to further enhance security, including providing more training for employees on de-escalating techniques.”
ABC Action News reached out to all of the hospitals we visited as part of our investigation and all of them responded. Many even provided us with written statements. The common theme centered around patient safety being one of their highest priorities and they are constantly reviewing their security procedures to see if there is room for improvement.
Our two experts say locked doors, security cameras, and even metal detectors inside hospitals are great in the front line of defense, but there is something cheaper and more effective.
“These types of things can certainly help but there’s no substitute for a well-trained staff member that has a security culture in mind when they're doing their day-to-day duties,” says Bryan Warren.
Below, find the 2011 report from Florida Hospital Association: