Kevin Kast, the president of SSM St. Joseph Hospital West and SSM St. Joseph Health Center, both in the St. Louis area, never imagined that in his position as a healthcare executive he would play the role of policeman.
But Kast and hospital executives throughout Missouri are busy preparing for a new state law that earmarks hospitals as one of the few public buildings where residents will not be able to bring concealed weapons. The legislation, which enables Missourians to carry concealed weapons with a permit, will go into effect Oct. 11.
At Kast's two hospitals, which have a total of 374 beds, workers last week were applying decals to doors and installing signs on the property reminding patients and visitors that guns and other weapons are not allowed. Residents with permits may carry weapons to most places, but hospitals and schools are among the exceptions.
Missouri will be one of 36 states that allow residents to carry concealed weapons with a permit, according to the National Rifle Association. Although there are no statistics available on the number of shootings in hospitals, there have been numerous reports of hospital violence in recent years. Last month in Baldwin Park, Calif., a man opened fire and wounded a doctor at 187-bed Kaiser Foundation Hospital-Baldwin Park. The doctor recovered and the man committed suicide.
"We look at it (from) a standpoint of safety for patients and staff," Kast said. "We look at this as part of the process to be cautious with terrorism or any violence. We just have to have a heightened sense of alert. It is a real concern for hospitals."
Kast also acquired hand-held wands for security guards to detect any weapons that patients or visitors might bring into the hospitals. Permanent metal detectors at the front doors also are possibilities, he said. With hundreds of patients and family members visiting the emergency rooms each day, there is a chance handguns and other weapons could make their way into the hospital, Kast said.
SSM Health Care, which oversees eight hospitals in Missouri, including Kast's facilities, is spending about $5,000 on signs, on legal fees for attorneys to review the new law and on meetings to brief security personnel.
The scene is being repeated throughout the Show Me State as hospitals are reviewing the law and what it means to them, said Daniel Landon, vice president of legislative advocacy at the Missouri Hospital Association, which represents 141 hospitals in the state. The law does not require hospitals to post signs prohibiting concealed weapons, but many chief executive officers believe it is a good idea, he said.
"People won't sit around and read the state law," Landon said. "The presumption is that (installing) signs will make it clear. We get reports of weapons being brought into emergency rooms. This could help out."
Hospitals also are taking an extra step and installing signs at outpatient clinics and medical office buildings because those facilities are not exempt under the law. Under the legislation, private companies and business owners can post signs prohibiting weapons, Landon said.
Paul Convery, executive vice president and chief medical officer at SSM Health Care, has overseen efforts to educate security personnel at the system's hospitals. Security guards will remind weapon holders of the new law and will call police if they try to remain in the hospital, he said.
"This has been a major distraction and a major issue for us," Convery said. "There has been a lot of staff time put into this. It's one more burden for healthcare."