TEGH security ‘a top priority’

Managers at Toronto East General Hospital say security remains a top priority, with considerable resources devoted to it.

TEGH has figured prominently on the police blotter since February, with a string of high-profile incidents.

Most dramatically, on Feb. 3, a man who was under psychiatric care at the hospital was shot and killed by police as he wandered neighbourhood streets, still dressed in his hospital gown and allegedly threatening people with scissors.

Earlier this month, there were two more developments in two days: On April 10, police identified a Toronto man as a suspect after security video captured images of someone entering empty rooms — where patients’ personal items were stolen. On April 11, a “skimmer” was found attached to an automatic teller machine at the hospital. That would allow the thieves who installed it to record bank-card information and PINs from people using the machines. They then use that information to manufacture their own illegal bank cards and draw money from the same accounts.

The police are using hospital security video to try to identify the skimming suspects, like they did in the case of 52 year-old Russell Gordon Scott of Toronto. Scott is wanted in connections with the March thefts from patients’ rooms at both TEGH and Princess Margaret Hospital.

Angela Pappaianni is the co-ordinator of corporate communications at TEGH. She said the thief entered rooms when the patients were not around.

“When the patients and family members noticed their belongings were gone, they told security, who notified police,” Pappaianni said.

Those thefts recalled an incident in 2010, when two men walked into the hospital, went into a dying patient’s room and took her valuables. In that case as well, security video helped identify the pair of thieves responsible.

TEGH has a network of 250 security cameras, according to Clint Hodges, the manager of protection services at TEGH. He has worked in hospital security for over 14 years.

Hodges said the cameras supplement a team of four security guards who rotate to ensure the facility is monitored at all times. One guard remains on duty in the emergency department and the others roam the rest of the facilities.

“We have a patrol system that records their location, where they patrol and when they patrol,” Hodges said.

Hodges declined to discuss specifics around the most critical incident at TEGH recently: the February death of Michael Eligon, 29 — a mentally ill man who walked out of TEGH and into the adjacent neighbourhood wearing a hospital gown, toque and socks.

When police found him, he was wielding two pairs of scissors. After a standoff with 12 Toronto police officers, Eligon was fatally shot on Milverton Boulevard near Coxwell Avenue.

Regional coroner Dr. James Edwards announced two weeks ago that an inquest will be held into the death, but he didn’t say when or where. TEGH has only said that it is conducting an internal review around its handling of Eligon.

While not commenting on the Eligon case specifically, Hodges said TEGH initiates a security procedure called “Code Yellow” when they notice a patient is missing.

“The Code Yellow is initiated by the nursing staff when they notice that a patient is not where they are supposed to be,” Hodges said.

Hodges said their second step is to announce on the hospital PA system for the patient to return to their unit.

If the patient can’t be found, then staff conduct a thorough search of the hospital. Security records a description of the individual on an internal telephone number that is accessible by all staff members so they may assist in the search.

“Depending on the seriousness of the situation or the medical status of that patient, we may involve the Toronto Police Service,” Hodges said.

According to Hodges, although it is not uncommon for patients to leave the hospital, depending on their medical status, some are permitted to do so, while others are returned to the facility.

“They may walk out on their own accord or they may decide that they would like to go to another facility, or leave our facility. It is difficult for us to prevent that,” he said. “We are not a jail, so we do not have those types of security systems. So we rely on people typically to stay in the hospital when they know they are required to do so.”

Hodges said the hospital’s security procedures are reassessed annually and after critical incidents. According to Hodges, hospital security also does regular drills of all of their procedures.

“We use those drills to determine areas for improvement and to ensure we are conducting our emergency procedures properly,” he said.