Earlier this month, I questioned the security measures that protect inpatients in hospitals, now I would like to talk about the question of whether or not patients are aware of the safety risks within their own rooms.

On a recent visit to a hospital I had never been to before, I observed that the inpatient rooms had framed, patient safety notices mounted over the paper towel dispenser on the wall near the sink. The top of the notice showed an international sign for a person falling with a diagonal line through it. Directly below the image were the words “Prevent A Fall” in bold type and another picture of a nurse assisting a patient out of bed.

Warning signs and safety tips are required in inpatient rooms. Unfortunately in the room I was in, I had to remove two glove box dispensers that were incorrectly placed on top of the paper towel dispenser in order to uncover the bottom of the notice that read “For Your Safety: Call the Nurse Before Getting Up!”

While the placement of the sign was intended for a patient to easily see it as they sat on the edge of their bed, thinking about getting up, the intent of the sign was potentially lost because of the casual placement of the glove boxes. If there had been three boxes on top of the dispenser you would not have seen the picture at all.

Who is responsible for this circumstance? I looked around the room and realized that these were not extra glove boxes, these were the only glove boxes. Was it the facility manager’s responsibility to correctly place the glove box holders in the room? Were they an equipment item that was owner furnished and installed or were they left off the construction documents and still not installed? What about facility’s risk assessment team? Do they come into the patient rooms to see if their safety measures are being used correctly? Has staff complained that they needed glove box holders until they just can’t be bothered anymore?

Whatever the answer is, this is an easy problem to solve if this facility chooses to. As healthcare planners and designers, we are responsible for understanding all details of the content of the patient care environment. This has become even more important as the amount of research involving improving patient outcomes is surging. However, in this particular facility, I hope that all staff members are educated about the proper treatment of patient safety signs before data is collected documenting the number of patient falls that occurred when a patient got up without assistance.

Kathy Bell, AIA, ACHA, is Associate at The S/L/A/M Collaborative and specializes in master planning, programming, planning and design within the healthcare sector. She has a special focus on issues and innovations regarding patient safety in emergency department and patient care units.