Canadian Security Magazine

Health-care security: Caring for a rapidly growing seniors population

By Don MacAlister   

Features Opinion

The last 20 years has seen tremendous growth for the health-care security industry in the acute care sector in Canada.

Driven largely by the deinstitutionalization movement in mental health, and the expanded role for security in the safe management of aggressive patient behaviour, virtually all but the smallest of hospitals now have on site security and utilize security technology such as cameras, electronic access control and intrusion and duress alarms.

As more health services have shifted to the community, through health clinics, community and increasingly home care, health-care security services have adapted to design security solutions for this growing health-care segment, with both static and mobile security utilized, as well as various security technologies tailored to these unique settings.

More recently, safety and security-related issues in the residential/long term-care sector have received media and public scrutiny, as tragic incidents involving resident on resident violence or resident wandering resulting in death, have occurred. Last year alone there were five seniors killed in care homes by other residents, with more than 10,000 incidents of resident on resident violence occurring in these facilities across the country.

With the first baby boomers hitting the age of 65 in 2011 it is clear the health system demographics are shifting rapidly, presenting significant future challenges for the long term care sector. Five million Canadians are aged 65 or older, according to the 2011 census, representing an increase of 14 per cent in that age group since 2006. Today Canadian men and women are living longer than at any point in the country’s history – with life expectancy increasing by more than 30 years since the early 1900’s.


As Canadians live longer, more and more of us are afflicted with some form of dementia, an illness that has been prominent in many of the violent incidents and resident elopement tragedies in recent years. Almost 750,000 Canadians, 15 per cent of the senior population, suffer from dementia, a number that will increase to 1.4 million people by 2031. Many of these seniors are physically strong, though suffering from cognitive impairment in various forms.

While security systems such as cameras, electronic access control and resident wandering technology have slowly been introduced into long term care settings over the years, the healthcare security industry has been slow to focus on this environment as a priority for risk-based solutions. As well, very few care facilities have dedicated on site security resources.

It is clear however, from the rapidly changing population demographics, and from the number and severity of incidents associated with senior’s care, that a health-care security lens is needed to create and design safety and security solutions for this unique and complex environment. This will involve much more than a migration of hospital or community sector security solutions to these long term care settings. It will take a focused and strategic approach to mitigating risk in these environments by the health-care security profession, and it will need to start now.

Don MacAlister is vice-president of healthcare & institutional security for Paladin Security. This article originally appeared on the Paladin website here.

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