"Once considered safe havens, health care institutions today are confronting steadily increasing rates of crime, including violent crime," said an alert issued in June by the Joint Commission, a national accrediting agency.
Since 2004, the number of assaults, rapes and murders reported to the Joint Commission rose steadily, with the greatest number of reports in the last three years: There were 36 incidents nationwide in 2007, 41 in 2008 and 33 in 2009.
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That number is likely far lower than the actual number of incidents because violence in health settings in often underreported, the group said.
Violence is often perpetrated by staff, visitors, patients — and intruders, the agency warned.
The suspect in the shooting at Johns Hopkins reportedly was hiding inside a patient's room on the eighth floor of the hospital. It was unclear whether the shooter was related to the patient, news reports said.
A key to preventing violence in hospitals is controlling access, said Russell L. Colling, a health care security consultant who contributed to the Joint Commission report.
"The roots of violence need to be investigated and evaluated beginning at the unit level," Colling wrote. "Nurses and other health care staff should question the presence of all visitors in patient rooms and not assume that someone is a family member or friend."