Seattle hospital security guards to carry Tasers

SEATTLE — Security guards for the Swedish Medical Center in Seattle will start carrying Tasers next month.

Hospital officials told The Seattle Times ( ) they expect the devices to help them in handling dangerous or unruly people.

About 70 security guards at six of the medical center’s seven campuses have been trained to use Tasers.

A spokesman for Taser International says about 230 hospitals across the nation use their devices for security. In Washington state, the devices are used by security staff at EvergreenHealth hospital in Kirkland, PeaceHealth St. John Medical Center in Longview and Madigan Army Medical Center in Pierce County.

“Health care is one of the places where workplace violence is a problem because (employees) are working with volatile or unstable people,” said Elaine Fischer, spokeswoman for the Washington Department of Labor and Industries. “They’re working alone or working late at night. They’re providing services to anybody who comes in.”

Swedish spokesman Clay Holtzman says the medical center spent about a year considering adding a weapon for security officers. They found Tasers were their best, less-lethal option when compared to batons and pepper spray.

Swedish has hospitals in Seattle’s First Hill, Ballard and Cherry Hill neighborhoods and in Issaquah, as well as care centers in Redmond and Mill Creek.

Security officers at the hospital system’s Edmonds campus are handled by a private firm and will not be carrying Tasers, Holtzman said.

One Indiana cardiologist who has studied the effects of Tasers on the heart said the use of electric-shock weapons on medically fragile people would be disastrous.

“I’ve maintained and published that the Taser can cause cardiac arrest. It does so by revving up the heart rate from the normal 70 or so times a minute to extremely rapid rates,” said Dr. Douglas Zipes, of Indiana University School of Medicine.

Zipes said patients hospitalized for heart conditions or taking certain prescription drugs or coming into the hospital drunk would be more vulnerable to death.

Holtzman said Tasers are going to be used as “a security tool” to “maintain a safe environment.”

“These will never be used on a patient. Period,” Holtzman said.

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