CHICAGO — Two Illinois legislators are reviving a push for a law that would mandate metal detectors in hospitals, which has taken on a new focus following the mass shooting at Mercy Hospital & Medical Center in Chicago last week.
State Rep. La Shawn K. Ford, D-Chicago, and state Sen. Laura Murphy, D-Des Plaines, said they plan to re-introduce the bills in coming months. The legislation previously failed.
Ford, whose bill would also place the devices in other public spaces, like schools, said metal detectors serve as a deterrent and offer a sense of safety to the public.
"When you go to the airport, you automatically know you better not bring a gun," he said. "We just have to know what type of society we're living in right now. No one likes going through metal detectors ... but it is something that's probably going to become the norm for public spaces. We should be on the forefront of this."
Murphy, whose bill would only require metal detectors in hospitals, acknowledged that it wouldn't "solve all the problems. There's still a bigger discussion that needs to be had."
During the Nov. 19 shooting, gunman Juan Lopez, 32, started firing his gun outside the hospital, where he fatally shot his ex-fiancee Dr. Tamara O'Neal, 38, who worked at Mercy. Lopez then went inside the emergency department, where he shot and killed 24-year-old pharmacist Dayna Less and 28-year-old Chicago police Officer Samuel Jimenez. Lopez later shot himself in the head, police said.
Hospitals have since reevaluated safety policies, and some say a one-size-fits-all approach, like metal detectors, isn't the answer, and that hospitals already engage in a number of protocols designed as safeguards, including security guards, active shooter drills and de-escalation training.
"A hospital is supposed to be a place of healing and recovery ... and we're seeing that it's now a place where a mass shooting can take place," said Alice Johnson, executive director of the Illinois Nurses Association.
The group helped draft legislation approved earlier this year that increases violence-prevention efforts at hospitals, including risk assessments of their facilities. The new law takes effect Jan. 1 and was written in response to an incident in Northwestern Medicine Delnor Hospital in Geneva, where nurses were taken hostage and assaulted by an inmate who was a patient.
Johnson said that while there are no solutions that would prevent all violence in hospitals, "obviously there's a lot of work left to be done here."
Hospitals throughout the state are working to comply with the new law, said Danny Chun, spokesman for the Illinois Health and Hospital Association.
Chun said the group opposes the new bills because a blanket requirement for metal detectors at all hospitals, regardless of their setting, is not the best approach to security.
"There are multiple approaches hospitals take," he said. Security "is a priority. They prepare for it, they drill on it. They have procedures and protocols in place."
Hospitals also worry metal detectors could compromise access for critical patients, he said. "If you're having a heart attack or stroke and you have to wait in line for a metal detector, that could make a difference in the outcome."