Duke Health is installing a weapons detection system at each of its three hospital entrances, including Duke University, Duke Regional and Duke Raleigh hospitals starting next week.
"The detection system is similar to those that you would find at most major public events, which provides additional safety and security for patients, visitors and staff members," Duke Health's Ian Brown said.
The response comes amid rising attacks on health care workers, including North Carolina's nurse population.
Duke Health employees have also faced workplace violence in the past, including in July when a nurse was attacked by a patient.
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"We made a pledge as a health system to redouble our efforts to address safety, and the devices are a direct result of that commitment," Brown said.
Visitors will not be required to empty their pockets, or handbags, or remove belts, as the system is designed to detect weapons, such as guns and moderately sized knives.
Although the health system's response is appropriate, it comes amid an exodus of the healthcare workforce, according to Dr. Dennis Taylor.
"It's hitting us at a time right now when there's already a significant shortage here in North Carolina," Taylor said. "We're having anywhere from a 5,000 to 7,000 nurse shortage per year."
Taylor said it's the stress from having to do more, as well as deal with violence that's making the problem worse.
The North Carolina Nurses Association found nearly 50% of nurses said they have personally witnessed violence in the last two years, with more than 27% reporting that they were the victim of workplace violence.
"Certainly in the emergency department over the past two years, I have clearly witnessed episodes of aggression, and I've been the recipient of them as well," Taylor said.
"We're seeing people at their absolute worst. It is really, really difficult sometimes to separate out when issues are medically related or when they may be chemically induced ... and oftentimes that clouds their ability to make a good decision about something."
Taylor said one of the issues for healthcare workers is that there's very little prosecution of these crimes, as there's no federal law that protects healthcare workers from workplace violence issues.
"Unfortunately, you really have to be significantly hurt before a magistrate or a district attorney is going to bring charges against the patient and in many times these are cases that really are not simple and straightforward," Taylor said. "It's something that you just have to be very careful of ... and employers also need to make sure that they're providing the appropriate resources to protect their employees."
Duke Health said installation will begin the week of Feb. 13 and equipment will go online in a phased approach through early March.
WakeMed and UNC Health have also increased their security measures, according to both health systems.
"WakeMed Campus Police provides 24/7 coverage, performing regular, purposeful rounds throughout our hospitals, health plexes, public spaces, and entrances to assess security and respond to any type of security-related situations," WakeMed said. "WakeMed is currently assessing the potential of security software programs and other devices and technologies with advanced capabilities for additional safety measures, including for weapons detection."
UNC Health said they're "continuously evaluating innovative solutions to make all of our hospitals and clinic safer," including adding a K9 unit at UNC Medical Center in Chapel Hill to help detect explosives, ammunition and more.
"One of our top priorities is the safety and well-being of everyone who comes to our facilities, and violence in hospitals is a serious issue," UNC Health said. "In the past year, we have expanded training for our staff on how to recognize and react to potential security issues before they escalate into violence."
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