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Northwell Health places armed guards in 2 hospitals

The move to add more security at Long Island Jewish Medical Center and North Shore University Hospital is part of a pilot program to deal with an active shooter situation, officials with the health system said.

Armed security guard John DeVito at his post

Armed security guard John DeVito at his post at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset on Tuesday. Photo Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr.

Northwell Health has placed armed security guards at North Shore University Hospital  in Manhasset and Long Island Jewish Medical Center in New Hyde Park as part of a pilot program to deal with an active shooter situation.

The program was launched after employees called for more security in the wake of violent incidents at hospitals around the country.

In one incident close to home last year, a disgruntled former doctor killed one person and wounded six people at Bronx-Lebanon Hospital in the Bronx. Also, shots were fired in the parking lot outside the emergency department at Northwell’s Southside Hospital in Bay Shore in 2016. No one was injured in that case.

“Hundreds of our employees have gone through active shooter training and have asked us why we don’t have armed security,” said Jon Sendach, deputy executive director at North Shore University Hospital. “The solution here includes having guards who can respond immediately.”

Northwell expects to have armed guards at all of its 23 hospitals within a year, Sendach said. He said the armed security guards are retired law enforcement officers. Not all guards are armed.

Southside Hospital will be the next Northwell location to add armed security, added Scott Strauss, assistant vice president of security at Northwell Health.

The New Hyde Park-based health system wouldn’t disclose how many of the guards at the two hospitals are armed.

“For security purposes, it’s not a good idea to give anyone a breakdown,” Sendach said.

Some New York City hospitals already have armed guards as part of their security plan.

“This is new for us, but many other hospitals around the country already have armed staff on the premises,” Strauss said. “People leave with us their most prized possession, their family members. Why wouldn’t we protect them?”

Hiring trained, armed security personnel is costly, but worthwhile, said Mike Sapraicone, president and owner of Uniondale-based Squad Security, which has 500 employees worldwide. Sapraicone, a retired NYPD detective, said his company hires guards with a law enforcement background.

"It may cost $15 [per hour] for some guards, but my guards are more than double that amount," he said. "I see hospitals are beginning to realize they need to increase their budget for security. Employees there, and everywhere, need to be comfortable with where they work."

Northwell would not comment on how much the security upgrades are costing. 

Other local hospitals said they either have access to armed guards or are considering adding them.

Stony Brook University Hospital "has a fully accredited and armed law enforcement agency on campus and they are supplemented by highly trained security personnel within the hospital," said Kali Chan, director of medicine media relations at Stony Brook Medicine. "All university police officers and security personnel are highly trained in active shooter response protocols."

Catholic Health Services of Long Island, which operates six hospitals, said in a statement the health system "is actively investigating the regulatory and training implications of arming its security guards."

Separately, Northwell Health said it has installed security turnstiles at Huntington Hospital. Northwell installed turnstiles at North Shore in the past year.

Northwell is the largest private employer in the state, with 66,000 employees.

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