Nurses—with armed guards—bring health care to risky neighborhoods

Health system provides nurses with armed security for in-home visits

CNN this week spotlighted a group of nurses who provide in-home health care to patients in high-risk Chicago neighborhoods, travelling with armed security guards to ensure their own safety.

About a year and a half ago, Advocate Health Care implemented a rule requiring that armed security guards—often retired Chicago police officers—drive and escort nurses providing in-home care in neighborhoods with high crime rates. The guards first ensure that a residence is safe and then stand outside of the home while the nurse treats patients. 

"We keep an eye on all this stuff so that the clinician can do what she needs to do without fearing for her safety," security guard Tom Flanagan told CNN.

In between appointments, security guards listen to police scanners for reports of crime before entering a new neighborhood—occasionally rearranging their schedules if police report a crime within blocks of where they are headed. Sometimes healthier patients will have to wait a few hours to receive their scheduled care and sicker patients will have to meet their nurse at a relative's or friend's home in a safer neighborhood, CNN reports.

Many of these patients suffer from chronic conditions or cancer, according to Atundra Horne, an Advocate Health nurse who often provides in-home infusions of chemotherapy drugs.

"I do it because I care about the patients," Horne told CNN, adding that the patients "can't help the communities they're in."

"My patients truly live as prisoners in their own homes," according to fellow nurse Beth Kairis. "No sooner do I get my foot in the door, they get the door bolted shut, the alarm activated. It's sad because they live afraid in their own homes, and they're dealing with sickness on top of that" (Smith, CNN, 3/2).

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