Inovonics’ device helps keep hospital staff safe

November 22, 2013
Deeter Does Wirless

LOUISVILLE – When an emergency room patient at Exempla St. Joseph Hospital in Denver grabbed a cord in the room and tried to strangle himself recently, the security officer monitoring the patient couldn’t get her radio to work to call for assistance.

The security officer was, however, able to push the button on an Enterprise Mobile Duress pendant. The wireless signal from the pendant alerted other security and nursing staff that immediate help was necessary to subdue the patient. It also identified which hospital employee needed help and the precise location in the 854,000-square-foot hospital.

“That would have been a bad day for a lot of people,” said Eric Smith, the HSS Inc. security director at St. Joe’s who recounted the incident. “It just highlights how useful it is for nursing staff. They don’t have the radios anyway, so it gives them a tool they can use to call for help immediately.”

St. Joe’s has had the Radius EMD system produced by Louisville-based Inovonics Wireless Corp. installed for about three months, and already has reaped the rewards of employee safety on multiple occasions. For Inovonics, meanwhile, the installation at St. Joe’s could prove equally beneficial. With its Radius EMD already deployed at about 25 hospitals nationwide, St. Joe’s marks the first in Colorado, giving Inovonics a local proving ground to research and develop future generations of the product, according to Eric Banghart, Inovonics’ senior business development manager for health care.

“This gives us a great local partner to work with,” Banghart said.

The Radius system is one Inovonics has been selling for about two years. The wireless sensor network provider has deployed duress networks in various venues, from banking to government to industrial warehouses. But the greatest concentration of the Radius version of the EMD, with location capabilities, has been in hospitals.

An Inovonics white paper cited statistics from a 2010 report by the Center for Personal Protection and Safety that said roughly a half million nurses are the victims of violent crimes every year in the United States. Emergency departments are at particularly high risk. The reasons vary, but Smith said recreational drugs play a part. Banghart added that hospitals’ 24-hour public access and high-emotion setting – where violence sometimes spills over from the streets – also are factors.

“Unfortunately, this is a really prevalent problem,” Banghart said.

Radius works through a central server that communicates with the pendants worn by hospital employees. Repeaters can be deployed throughout a facility to help extend the system’s range. There are various types of pendants, from one-button to four-button models. The various pendants can be programmed to send out messages that range from a basic call for help from a specific person in a specific location to more specific messages that give an indication of how serious a situation is and what level of help is required.

“This empowers your people to have a say in how they’re seeking help,” Banghart said. “It’s an easier way for them to request assistance that they need.”

Before Radius, Smith, said, duress technology at St. Joe’s consisted of fixed hard-wired buttons at central locations such as nurses stations. An employee would have to get to a button just to summon help, which isn’t always feasible.

“What we were getting back from staff is that they wanted something they had with them in the rooms,” Smith said.

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The Radius EMD marks an evolution of sorts for Inovonics. Founded in 1986, the company traditionally has been a component-based business with a platform used to extend existing duress systems. Lately, the company has shifted to more of a systems-based model where it develops the software, hardware and applications such as EMD.

Another major draw of the Radius EMD is its customization and scalability. At St. Joe’s, the system was installed in the 46,000-square-foot emergency department on the first floor, the 7,500-square-foot behavioral health area on the fourth floor and the 17,000-square-foot intensive care unit and family waiting area on the sixth floor – three of the areas where incidents are most frequent. In addition to the server, the hospital had 12 repeaters installed, and purchased 45 mobile pendants that are checked out by employees each day.

The cost of the Radius systems varies widely depending on the layout of a facility and the amount of coverage required. In general, Banghart said, a system similar to the one at St. Joe’s would cost in the $50,000 to $100,000 range. As budgets allow, the addition of repeaters and pendants can expand the systems. St. Joe’s is building a new hospital across the street from its current location, and the hope, Banghart said, is that the Radius system will be more widespread there.

“This really offers us a lot of flexibility in how we roll out the system,” Smith said. “It’s much simpler to expand or add onto this than the old or traditional formats.”

Inovonics is based entirely in Louisville. The company – a subsidiary of Roper Industries Inc. (NYSE: ROP), which posted third-quarter revenue of $828 million – does not disclose its own financials or employee figures. Inovonics changed locations within the Colorado Technology Center in 2011, and had 70 employees at that time. That is a third of what the company had in 2008 before it outsourced manufacturing.

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