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St. John's Children's Hospital Deploys RFID to Protect Children

The Springfield, Ill., medical center is using 100 RFID-enabled bracelets and a network of readers to secure three floors of its six-story facility.
By Beth Bacheldor
Mar 09, 2009St. John's Children's Hospital, located in Springfield, Ill., is employing an RFID-enabled security system to protect newborns and children up to 18 years of age in its care. The system, provided by RF Technologies, covers three of the facility's six floors, as well as an outdoor play area in the center of the hospital's fifth floor, which has a two-story-high atrium open to the sky. St. John's has 80 beds, and averages approximately 1,600 admissions each year.

The system, known as the Safe Place Infant/Child Security Solution, replaced St. John's previous RF-enabled security system, which had never worked properly since its installation in 1998, when the hospital opened, according to John Mosher, St. John's security manager. "There was radio interference, but no one could ever isolate it," Mosher says. "We would receive 200 alarms a day." The false alarms continued for approximately three months, until a decision was made to uninstall the system.

Mosher admits he was skeptical when he sat down more than a year ago to talk with RF Technologies about installing Safe Place. But Josh Lutzke, RF Technologies' senior account executive who worked directly with St. John's on the installation, says he reassured Mosher and others at the hospital that his company's system would not succumb to interference. "We have taken precautions with our hardware to build in filtering," he states, "so we are not prone to a lot of interference."

In addition to the filtering, Safe Place features dual-frequency transmitters—active RFID tags that periodically emit signals at 262 kHz and 318 MHz. The reusable transmitters are embedded in wrist or ankle bracelets, and RF Technologies provides customers with specialized sterilizing solutions to clean the tags. The doorway interrogators pick up the tags' 262 kHz transmissions, while readers deployed elsewhere within a facility receive their 318 MHz signals.

St. John's, which has utilized the system for a year, has had very few false alarms with Safe Place, Mosher says. What's more, he adds, the hospital has never had any incidents of patients being removed without authorization from the facility.

The bracelets are equipped with tamper-proof technology that transmits an alert if a band is cut, or if an individual attempts to remove it, effectively breaking the connection. As the connection is severed, the bracelet sends one last "dying signal" to the nearest reader, which then transmits that tag's ID number, along with the location of the receiver that picked up the dying signal, to a back-end server. RF Technologies' software then interprets that information, enabling the system to sound an audible alarm at nurses' stations, and to contact the staff's cell phones.

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