At first glance, it might seem appropriate to implement standard hospital communication solutions in correctional and behavioral healthcare facilities, as both cater to patients’ medical needs. However, the distinct way these environments work, along with their challenges and needs, means that transferring technology directly from typical hospitals is not only difficult, but also potentially life-threatening.

Focusing on thoughtfully designed technology while considering the unique challenges of behavioral health environments can decrease safety risks, benefiting both patients and healthcare staff. Here are four safety measures to help manage these risks, especially in high-risk environments like prisons and psychiatric wards.

Enhance Safety with Thoughtful Hardware Design

Given the potential risks associated with the behavioral health patient population — such as suicide, self-harm, violence, aggressive behavior and the use of seclusion and restraint — the design features of communication systems in these environments require careful attention. Key to this is the choice of hardware, which should lack sharp edges or snag points that may pose a threat to patients or care staff.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services defines a “ligature risk” as “anything which could be used to attach a cord, rope or other material for the purpose of hanging or strangulation.”

Therefore, facilities should prioritize life-safety designs, including:

  • Ligature-resistant fixtures and devices that lack sharp edges or snag points.
  • Heavy-duty components constructed from durable, stainless-steel materials to withstand high-stress situations.
  • Flush-mount dome lights that sit tightly along the wall or ceiling to eliminate ligature points.
  • Tamper-resistant screws designed to prevent attempts at removal or damage.
  • Embedded microphones for clear communication, ruling out the misuse of standalone devices.

Identify Risks Early with Remote Patient Monitoring

The ability to identify at-risk patients is a critical component of safety in correctional and behavioral healthcare environments. Highlighting this challenge is a study by Cheng, Hu, & Tseng, which revealed only two out of 54 non-psychiatric suicidal inpatients were recognized as being at risk by non-psychiatric medical staff prior to committing suicide, underscoring the importance of enhancing patient visibility and monitoring.

Intelligent video surveillance is an up-and-coming virtual care solution that allows care staff to observe individuals remotely, either from a centralized location or via a mobile device. This enables them to rapidly identify patients who may be at risk of safety events, potential self-harm or violent behavior toward caregivers.

Through this monitoring, psychiatric nurses, mental health professionals and correctional healthcare staff can deliver urgent de-escalation techniques during a crisis event or immediate response to sudden health changes, both safely and promptly.

Increase Accessibility in Healthcare with Virtual Visits

With more than 1.2 million adults incarcerated in the United States, according to Statista, providing quality healthcare to this population presents significant challenges. Traditional care delivery models in these settings often involve physically transporting incarcerated individuals to external healthcare facilities for consultations and treatments — a process that is not only costly but also fraught with logistical intricacies and security concerns, from escape attempts to potential violence.

In this context, virtual visits allow patients to connect with their medical and behavioral health care teams via secure video calls from within the correctional or behavioral environments themselves.

This helps make patient rooms safer for everyone involved, while also providing a secure avenue for patients to engage with medical and mental health professionals virtually, fostering emotional wellbeing for smoother discharge and rehabilitation into society.

Ensure Emergency Response with Nurse Call Integrations

In these challenging environments, seamlessly integrated communication serves as a crucial safety net. Consider scenarios involving high-risk confrontations or medical emergencies. For instance, a mental health professional might be working with a volatile patient who suddenly becomes aggressive.

In these situations, devices like Real-Time Location System (RTLS) badges with built-in panic buttons for staff, or easily accessible call devices for elderly or disabled patients, become indispensable lifelines.

With the right integration, help remains just a button-press away, even if a fixed wall device cannot be immediately accessed. This ensures that in times of crisis, care staff can quickly call for immediate assistance or backup, optimizing safety for themselves and enabling prompt, efficient care for patients.

Maximize Safety in Behavioral Health with West-Com

West-Com’s purpose-built systems for correctional and behavioral settings are designed to improve patient and staff safety by minimizing self-harm risks and maintaining the staff’s ability to provide an immediate response to patient calls and emergencies.

Explore our full suite of behavioral health solutions and discover how we can help meet the demands of your correctional or behavioral health environment.