Geneva hostage situation illustrates risks for hospital workers, patients

As police continue to investigate the circumstances of a hostage situation and officer-involved shooting that left one dead Saturday at Delnor Community Hospital in Geneva, the violent episode serves as a reminder of the risks hospital workers, patients and visitors can face, industry experts said Sunday.

Tywon Salters, a 21-year-old Kane County jail inmate receiving treatment at the hospital, was shot to death by a Kane County SWAT team member, ending a standoff that began when he disarmed a correctional officer and took two nurses hostage.

The Illinois State Police Public Integrity Task Force is investigating the use of force, and the Kane County Sheriff's Office is reviewing the events that led up to the fatal shooting, including how Salters got the officer's firearm.

"We also plan on meeting with Delnor and their staff to find out what their concerns are and work together to do our best to see that something like this doesn't happen in the future," sheriff's Lt. Pat Gengler said.

Gengler confirmed Sunday that the officer who shot Salters works for the North Aurora Police Department. No one from the department could be reached Sunday to provide information on the officer's status.

The shooting illustrates the challenges faced by hospitals and how vulnerable they can be, those who work in the industry said.

"That event yesterday is something we all hope never happens, but unfortunately it's something we absolutely have to be prepared for," said Melissa Granato, associate vice president of security for AMITA Health, which operates nine suburban hospitals. "Hospitals are a setting where there are patients dealing with a variety of very difficult things at times, a lot of emotions, and there is the potential for violence to be present."

Martin Green, president of the Glendale Heights-based International Association for Healthcare Security and Safety, likened hospitals to individual cities, with all the issues that come with cities.

"It is not the safe haven that people think it is. I have definitely seen an increase in violence. I have seen an increase in negative behavior by people that come into the hospital," he said.

Hospitals, he added, aren't designed to be "like a fortress."

"We were designed to be open and inviting to the public," Green said. "So unlike a prison, which is not particularly open and inviting, and you go through sally ports and multiple screenings, generally hospitals are open campuses where people are encouraged to come in."

The association's 2017 Healthcare Crime Survey found that, among U.S. hospitals providing more than 220 responses, the rate of violent crime was 1 per 100 beds in 2016, down from 2.8 per 100 in 2014. Assaults occurred at a three-year high rate of 9.3 per 100. Disorderly conduct was the most frequent offense, at 34.1 occurrences per 100 beds.

The study found that, since 2012, 89 percent of hospital crimes were perpetrated by someone there as a patient, visitor or customer.

Delnor spokeswoman Kim Waterman said hospital employees train for violent events.

"All staff have mandatory annual training for an active-shooter situation," she said. "And then in addition to that, we have multiple drills throughout the year."

Meanwhile, things appear to have returned to normal at the hospital.

The emergency room opened to walk-ins at 6 p.m. Saturday, and by 8 p.m. ambulance service was resumed. Regular patients received treatment throughout the crisis, Waterman said.

"The hospital was in lockdown, but patients continued to be cared for," she said. "We did let patients know what was happening."

Waterman declined to discuss the status of the nurses taken hostage. An employee assistance program was immediately available Saturday to offer counseling and support, she added.

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