By Jennifer Sullivan
The Seattle Times
SEATTLE — Security staff for Swedish Medical Center will soon be carrying Tasers to assist them in handling dangerous or unruly people they encounter while patrolling the health-care facility's campuses.
A common tool for police, Tasers are relatively rare in a hospital setting. In fact, security officers at Swedish's Seattle campuses will be the first in the city to be armed with Tasers.
A spokesman for Taser International, maker of the stun guns, told The Seattle Times that about 230 hospitals in the United States use their devices.
"Health care is one of the places where workplace violence is a problem because [employees] are working with volatile or unstable people," said Elaine Fischer, spokeswoman for the Washington Department of Labor and Industries. "They're working alone or working late at night.
They're providing services to anybody who comes in."
Swedish spokesman Clay Holtzman said Swedish Medical Center spent about a year considering adding a weapon for security officers and found Tasers were "our best, less-lethal option when compared to batons and pepper spray."
Holtzman said that the 70 security officers who patrol six of Swedish's seven campuses are all being trained to use Tasers, which is expected to happen around June 1. The devices also will be capable of recording audio and video.
Swedish has hospitals in Seattle's First Hill, Ballard and Cherry Hill neighborhoods and in Issaquah; it also has care centers in Redmond and Mill Creek.
Security officers at the hospital system's Edmonds campus are handled by a private firm and will not be carrying Tasers, Holtzman said.
Seattle police declined to comment on the health-care facility's intention to equip security officers with Tasers, but the use of stun guns in hospitals has raised concerns among some medical professionals.
"This tool is not used to subdue unruly patients. It is to address violent circumstances in which our caregivers, our other patients or others in the hospital are at risk," Holtzman said.
One Indiana cardiologist who has studied the effects of Tasers on the heart said the use of electric-shock weapons on medically fragile people would be disastrous.
"I've maintained and published that the Taser can cause cardiac arrest. It does so by revving up the heart rate from the normal 70 or so times a minute to extremely rapid rates," said Dr. Douglas Zipes, of Indiana University School of Medicine.
Zipes said patients hospitalized for heart conditions, or taking certain prescription drugs or coming into the hospital drunk would be more vulnerable to death.
Holtzman said Tasers are going to be used as "a security tool" to "maintain a safe environment."
"These will never be used on a patient. Period," Holtzman said.
"We cannot stress this enough — these tools are never, ever to be used to subdue an uncooperative patient. They are for preventing or stopping violence that is a danger to staff, other patients, the subject themselves, etc.," he said.
As an example of the types of dangers security staffers face while on patrol, Holtzman recounted one incident from last year when two people tried to have their dog attack a hospital security officer.
When faced with someone who poses a danger, security staffers at Swedish have had little recourse other than calling police for help, Holtzman said.
After the security officers begin carrying Tasers, they will announce their intention to use the device. They will notify the person that the activity is being recorded and if the person does not stop the activity the weapon will be deployed, Holtzman added. Security officers then will handcuff those people and detain them for police.
Harborview Medical Center spokeswoman Susan Gregg said the hospital's security staffers carry handcuffs and batons and that a State Patrol trooper is on site to assist with security issues.
VA Puget Sound Health Care System spokesman Chad Hutson said its security staffers carry pepper spray and batons.
Taser International said its devices are used by security staffers at EvergreenHealth hospital in Kirkland, PeaceHealth St. John Medical Center in Longview and Madigan Army Medical Center in Pierce County.
Holtzman said he hopes that when potential criminals see the stun gun or hear that one is about to be used, they'll stop what they're doing.
He said the use of a Taser would be "a last-case scenario."
McClatchy-Tribune News Service
Copyright 2014 The Seattle Times