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Security guard, cameras planned for hospital after carjacking, long-term analysis in the works

By SARA HALL

Following a carjacking and assault last year at the local hospital, new cameras and a security guard are being added to help improve safety measures, officials reported this week.

Staff from Providence Mission Hospital Laguna Beach presented planned security enhancements during the City Council meeting on Tuesday (March 23). Mission Hospital Chief Operating Officer Terry Wooten announced that plans in the west building include four additional cameras (located in the parking lot, first floor interior lobby, fourth floor parking lot, and fourth floor lobby) and a security guard during the week (from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.) instead of the current parking attendant. The carjacking occurred in the lower-level parking lot.

For the east building, two additional cameras are planned (located in the exterior back table area and first floor interior lobby). 

The cameras are not monitored live, and the footage is retained for 90 days. Most of the council and public discussion revolved around the check-out process for patients in the hospital’s chemical dependency center, a voluntary rehabilitation program.

“All I’ve heard tonight is, pretty much, some PR spin about how we’re going to treat the symptom, but we haven’t talked about the disease,” said Councilmember Peter Blake.

Over the last few years, the hospital has turned into a ward for people who experience overdoses or psychotic breaks, Blake said. There have been a number of police incidences over the years. There are violent and drug-addicted people, he added.

“We pretty much have a serious problem over there,” Blake said. “I’ve yet to see one thing come out that would make me feel better about this situation.” Several council members noted that this was the first step in longer, more-involved process.

There are a few different issues that need to be addressed, the first of which are the short-term security concerns on the campus, Mayor Bob Whalen said. Whalen and Blake met with hospital staff a few weeks ago.

“We did agree…that a longer-term analysis needs to be done with respect to discharge plans,” Whalen said on Tuesday. “I don’t expect the hospital to have answers to that tonight.”

Even with a discharge plan, the hospital doesn’t have the legal right to hold a patient.

“It’s not a simple solution,” Whalen said. “That’s not to say we shouldn’t work on the problem, we need to work on it, and we need to see if we can improve the situation.”

The dialogue about the discharge plan will continue in order to ensure that the community is safe, he said.

“If there’s more that needs to be done, we’ll ask that it be done,” Whalen said.

Councilmember Toni Iseman asked to see a study on how Mission’s discharge process compares to other Southern California hospitals. She also suggested locked units, which would be safer for the patients and others at the hospital.

The facility is not locked, and they can’t hold anyone, but there is a sign-out process, Wooten confirmed.

Security guard Mission Hospital

Click on photo for a larger image

Photo by Mary Hurlbut 

Providence Mission Hospital Laguna Beach is adding new cameras and a security guard to increase safety measures

The intention is to continue the rehabilitation services, which have been offered long before Mission acquired the campus, Wooten said. The hospital, formerly known as South Coast Medical Center, started offering the services in the 1970s. When Mission acquired South Coast from owner Adventist Health in 2009, the California Attorney General mandated a condition of the purchase that those services not be reduced or eliminated. They have maintained that same number of licensed beds and have not expanded the program since taking over, Wooten confirmed.

The security changes come after former Laguna Beach resident Judie Dike was carjacked in October. A woman, who claimed to have a knife and a gun, accosted her as she was getting into her vehicle. The woman grabbed Dike’s purse and sped off, knocking Dike to the ground in the process. It took about 20 minutes for the guard to show up, who then had to check with a supervisor before calling 911, Dike previously explained. 

Once police got the call, they “immediately jumped into action,” LBPD Operations Captain Jeff Calvert said on Tuesday. In less than two hours, police pinged Dike’s phone, tracked the suspect to San Diego, and made an arrest.

“We empathize with Ms. Dike and can’t imagine how terrifying that incident was for her,” Calvert said. “This type of violent crime has previously never occurred at the hospital and, frankly, it’s an anomaly in our town.”

Police have worked closely with the hospital leadership team over the past few years, Calvert said. This ongoing relationship also aims to mitigate the number of times LBPD is called out to the hospital, which has been reduced by nearly 40 percent since 2018, he said.

“There’s still room for improvement,” Calvert said. 

After the assault, Dike asked hospital administrators about increasing security measures. Considering the patient population and the services offered at the hospital, Dike questioned whether or not the hospital had adequate security measures. The immediate response was yes, Wooten said. 

After some more internal review, staff asked the hospital’s parent organization, Providence Health, to conduct a security comparison with 18 other medical office properties in Southern California.

“As we looked at that assessment, we realized that we were falling somewhere in the middle of what our sister hospitals are doing,” Wooten said. “We really came together and said, ‘Ok, we have room for an opportunity here to make some improvements.’”

In addition to the cameras and guard, LBPD will put together a CPTED report (crime prevention through environmental design), which considers architectural and natural components. It should be ready to share within the next few weeks. 

CPTED is a philosophy with the goal to prevent crime by designing a physical environment that positively influences human behavior, Calvert explained. It could be as simple as adding cameras or trimming trees for better visibility.

This is a baby step for much needed reform at the hospital, Dike said during public comment on Tuesday. She was shocked to learn that the hospital describes the existing security as adequate.

“What is severely lacking is the safety and respect for the people of this community,” Dike said. 

Some of the released patients are “frightening” for the neighbors, she said. Even hospital staff members have reached out to her, telling her they’re scared to walk to their vehicles. With no guard or cameras, it’s a dangerous situation, Dike said.

“My attack was an accident waiting to happen,” Dike said. “What happened to me…would never have happened had there been a real guard.”

Some of the patients leave the facility before they’ve fully recovered and are just in search of a car or money and “their next fix,” Dike said. 

“What better place to go in their desperation than the doctor’s parking lot, where the older and more vulnerable are easy prey?” she said. “I realize not all mental illness and chemical dependency patients are a danger, and certainly have the right to privacy, respect, and help. However, it just takes a few.”