We live in a time when the importance of addressing issues of safety, inappropriate or erratic behavior, and even violence has become a necessary concern of hospitals nationwide. Recent incidents both in and outside of Santa Barbara have heightened our awareness of the fundamental responsibility we have in this regard.

Ron Werft

Ron Werft

Certainly the abduction of an infant almost three years ago, in spite of Cottage Health System’s security systems being among the best available, reinforced the need to be ever vigilant in protecting all patients who entrust us with their care.

A recently imposed fine from the California Department of Public Health on Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital is related to this February 2009 incident.

In this particular case, our existing security system had helped alert us to the abduction, and we were able to work with local law enforcement to recover the infant within hours and return him safely to the hospital and his parents. While we sincerely regret that this abduction ever occurred — the first of its kind in our long history — we are grateful for the outcome and want to assure current and future patients that their safety and security remain a priority for us.

Maintaining an ongoing effort to have state-of-the-art security systems at all three Cottage Health System hospitals has been and will continue to be one of our most critical priorities.

Among the additional measures put in place following this incident was a new visitor identification system that has been positively received by the majority of people coming to our facilities. It requires them to identify themselves at the front desk, indicate whether they are visiting a patient or coming for tests or treatment, and then given a badge to wear as they proceed to enter the hospital. We also added to the number of security personnel, installed additional surveillance cameras and increased staff training on issues related to security.

These changes have occurred at each of the Cottage hospitals — in Santa Barbara, Goleta and Santa Ynez Valley. This is a challenging task. Currently, more than 4,000 individuals enter through the doors of our hospitals on a daily basis. Our hospitals must remain comforting and welcoming refuges for the sick and injured, yet there’s a need to balance a welcoming environment with greater control of access to our facilities.

We believe that these changes were both necessary and important, and we appreciate your understanding and support of such security enhancements. We ask also that you let us know how we can further improve our service to you.

Our mission is centered on caring for all who come to us in need, and doing so with excellence, integrity and compassion. We are also dedicated to providing a safe and secure environment for all — whether patient, visitor, physician, volunteer or employee.

— Ron Werft is president and CEO for Cottage Health System.