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On January 1, 2017, the KHI News Service became part of KCUR public radio’s new initiative, the Kansas News Service. The Kansas News Service will continue to cover health policy news and broaden its scope to include education and politics. All stories produced by the former KHI News Service are archived here. Stories and photos may be republished at no cost with proper attribution and a link back to KHI.org.

KU Medical Center grapples with concealed weapons law

Change in 2017 raises concerns for staff, administration at KCK campus

By Sam Zeff, HEARTLAND HEALTH MONITOR | March 10, 2016

KU Medical Center grapples with concealed weapons law
Photo by Sam Zeff/Heartland Health Monitor The University of Kansas Medical Center in Kansas City, Kan., says it will hire more police officers when concealed weapons are allowed on campus in July 2017.

July 2017 may seem like a long way away, but when you’re planning to allow guns on college campuses, it might as well be just around the corner.

How Kansas colleges will comply with the law allowing guns on campus while maintaining security is complicated. But it’s perhaps most complex at the University of Kansas Medical Center and KU Hospital in Kansas City, Kan.

Since Kansas lawmakers passed a bill that would allow almost anyone to carry a concealed gun on college campuses, we've been hearing the arguments against it: Students are too immature to carry guns, theft is a problem and faculty would feel unsafe debating controversial topics in class.

At the sprawling and growing KU Medical Center, they have all those worries and more.

Photo by Sam Zeff/Heartland Health Monitor University of Kansas Medical Center Executive Vice Chancellor Doug Girod has concerns about allowing concealed weapons in “a high-stress, high-risk environment like health care.”

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“There are concerns in a high-stress, high-risk environment like health care,” says Executive Vice Chancellor Doug Girod.

The law allows institutions to ban guns, but only if they provide metal detectors and security guards. That’s not only prohibitively expensive but almost impossible to achieve at the medical center complex.

It's easy to see why as you walk around the campus. From 39th Street you can see a dozen doors leading into the bookstore and a courtyard between buildings. Turn around and look north and there's the medical library. Just down the street is the busy emergency room.

Almost 7,000 students and staff and hundreds of more patients and family member pass through those doors and dozens of others around the complex every day. Once through the doors, they enter a maze of hallways that connect classrooms, offices and clinics.

So Girod says he is worried.

“We have some vulnerable populations that are harder to protect. I mean, we’ve got patients stuck in a hospital, they aren’t going to get up and flee. We have children. We have pregnant mothers. The spectrum is very broad, so health care is certainly a unique environment.”

How unique? Some doctors say conflict is part of the job.

“But there’s a lot of confrontation that happens in health care,” says Allen Greiner, a family medicine doctor who has been on the faculty for 18 years and is a native Kansan. “Between groups of patients, inside of families, between providers and patients. Between providers and providers.”

“We have some vulnerable populations that are harder to protect. I mean, we’ve got patients stuck in a hospital, they aren’t going to get up and flee.”

- University of Kansas Medical Center Executive Vice Chancellor Doug Girod

He says guns are probably already being carried into the hospital, but he thinks this could make it even more common and gun accidents more likely.

He’s not alone.

Erin Corriveau joined the faculty about a year ago and is also a family doctor. She has nothing but praise for KU Medical Center and Kansas City.

But inviting more guns on campus, she says, may drive her and others from KU.

“I think a lot of faculty members will consider moving on if this is enacted,” says Corriveau. “I don’t think this is smart for Kansas. I don’t think this is the best thing for the health of our population.”

Most faculty and staff across the state agree with Corriveau.

A recent survey from the Docking Institute at Fort Hays State University showed 70 percent of faculty and staff at Kansas Board of Regents institutions oppose the new conceal and carry law. Eighty-two percent said they would feel less safe with armed students on campus.

So there is pushback and even a bill that would reverse the portion of the law allowing guns on campus.

But all of it is mostly falling on deaf ears in Topeka.

“Do you need security? Then you better get it,” says state Sen. Forrest Knox, a Republican from Altoona and one of the leading gun advocates in the Legislature.

He says his daughter is an emergency room nurse at Truman Medical Center in Kansas City, Mo., and her experiences there reinforce his thinking that everyone should be able to defend themselves.

“If you don’t provide security, then you shouldn’t deny the public’s right to provide for their own,” he says. “That’s the logic of the bill, OK, and nothing has changed in that whether it’s a hospital or not.”

Knox says he’s willing to listen if KU Medical Center officials want to restrict guns in the emergency room or patient rooms.

For their part, officials say they probably will hire more police officers to patrol the 41-acre complex and may post security at the library, restricting guns in that building. 

But short of turning out conservatives in the November election, nothing appears to be able to stop concealed weapons from coming to Kansas campuses.