Mission Hospital unveils security upgrades after Laguna Beach carjacking

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The Laguna Beach campus of Mission Hospital

Providence Mission Hospital will add six cameras and a security guard during business hours at its Laguna Beach campus in response to the carjacking of a 77-year-old woman last year, a hospital administrator announced Tuesday.

Terry Wooten, chief operating officer of Providence Mission Hospital, presented the suite of security upgrades for two medical office buildings during the Laguna Beach City Council meeting. In January, Mission Hospital staff asked Providence Health for a list of security measures at 18 medical office buildings throughout Southern California.

“As we looked at that assessment we realized we’re falling somewhere in the middle of what our sister hospitals are doing,” Wooten said.

At the west building, hospital staff plan to install four additional cameras, including one in the parking lot where Laguna Niguel resident Judie Dike was attacked on Oct. 21, 2020. A security guard will replace the existing parking attendant from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday thru Friday. The east building will also get two additional cameras.

The hospital’s cameras are not monitored by a person but do record video, Wooten said.

“Meeting the needs of our community is important to us,” Wooten said. “We pride ourselves on doing that. Keeping the hospital, keeping the ER open and running in the community during our COVID period. We were seeing patients in the Laguna Beach campus and we were able to care for those patients in the community.”

The security changes appear to be a compromise with Dike’s recommendation to install 14 security cameras at strategic points inside and outside the west building, also called South Coast Medical Center.

“Our work thus far is a baby step but I see it as a baby step for much-needed reform of Providence Mission Hospital and their programs,” Dike told the City Council on Tuesday.

Dike added that her attack was an accident waiting to happen because Providence Mission Hospital Laguna Beach’s Chemical Dependency Unit is a voluntary unit where patients check themselves in and are free to check out and leave the program.

“Our community deserves the same amount of commitment to safety and respect as these patients of Mission Hospital,” she said.

Laguna Beach police empathize with Dike and can imagine the terror she experienced, Capt. Jeff Calvert said. He pointed out that officers were able to track down the suspect in San Diego, where she was arrested less than two hours after the incident and remains in Orange County Jail.

“I just want to clarify that this type of violent crime has never occurred at the hospital and frankly it’s an anomaly in our town,” Calvert said.

Amid regular meetings with hospital administrators on security matters, Laguna Beach police have seen a 40 percent reduction in calls for service to the campus since 2018, Calvert said.

Natasha Hernandez, a Laguna Beach police community services officer, is also slated to conduct a security review of the hospital campus. Some solutions could be as simple as adding lighting or trimming bushes and trees to improve visibility, Calvert. A report on the department’s findings will return to the council within three weeks.

The discussion to reform the Laguna Beach hospital has been a rare point of unity for councilmembers Toni Iseman and Peter Blake.

Since MemorialCare Health System closed its San Clemente hospital, Providence Mission Hospital Laguna Beach has become a treatment center for severely mentally ill and drug-addicted patients in South Orange County, Blake said. He’s advocating the hospital discontinue its behavioral health and drug rehabilitation programs.

“All I’ve heard tonight is some [public relations] spin about how we are going to treat the symptoms but not treat the disease,” Blake said.

As a condition of getting the California Attorney General’s Office to approve its purchase of South Coast Medical Center in 2009, Mission Hospital agreed to maintain these programs, Wooten said, adding that they were started back in the 1970s.

Iseman proposed hospital administrators return the Chemical Dependency Unit to its former status as a locked ward.

“There are people when their families have them [in hospital rehabilitation] they make the assumption that they’re safe and for them to be safe means that they’re in locked units,” Iseman said.

Mayor Bob Whalen thanked the hospital for sharing their plans and partnering with Laguna Beach police but said other longer-term solutions for discharges will need to be revisited.

“I’m anxious to see the next step from the Police Department in terms of its evaluation of the security aspects of the campus,” Whalen said. “If there’s more that needs to be done we’ll ask that it be done.”

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