When Every Second Counts: Duress Signal Propagation in Mental Health Facilities


By: Kevin Christensen

Mental or behavioral health facilities—custody-based, residential or outpatient—are unique and serve a wide variety of people. And just as unique as each facility are its real-time locating system (RTLS) needs. Security may be a key issue in one, while patient wandering is a primary concern in another. Some facilities need a simple duress button system for the occasional unruly patient, while others need comprehensive, corner-to-corner monitoring at all times. 

No one RTLS solution works for every facility—just as there’s no one treatment that works for every individual experiencing mental health challenges. And in many situations, the difference of a few seconds in duress signal propagation, for example, can be the difference between life and a potentially fatal, serious situation. Many older tracking technologies for mental health facilities rely on triangulation and Wi-Fi, both of which are subject to delay and disruption. This can lead to higher costs and inefficient operations at best, injury or serious litigation at worst. 
Ultimately, an investment in a system with a fast signal propagation will pay dividends in efficiency, safety, morale and more. Here’s how:

Why RTLS Matters in Mental Health Settings

Let’s say you’re a psychiatrist in a residential behavioral health facility coming to see a patient of yours who is struggling with a serious mental health challenge. As soon as you get to the patient’s room, you can tell that today isn’t a good day—he is unruly and belligerent and won’t calm down. After just a few seconds, you know you’ll need backup to ensure that the situation stays safe for everyone involved. 

You press your duress button and wait. Nothing. All the while, you’re maintaining your composure and speaking calmly, but you know the situation is escalating to a dangerous level with each passing moment. He advances closer to you. You press the button again—nothing. Finally, as you’re nearly in a position of having to physically subdue your patient, you hear footsteps coming down the hall—backup has arrived just in time. 

Aside from the obvious stress and strain that such a scenario would bring, it would also cause issues with staffing and morale. Help should be where staffers need it and when they need it—not delayed by poor connections or outdated technology. Risking the safety of staffers and patients/residents simply isn’t worth the cost of a cheaper, less-reliable system
According to a recent article from RFID Journal, many connected devices in the internet of things (IoT) have a lag (or latency) time of up to 5 seconds—while consumers and users expect devices to work or respond within a tenth of a second of engagement. Not only is the delay frustrating to the user (in this case, the staffer), but it’s also potentially dangerous in a mental health facility. And that 5-second delay? That’s incredibly fast for many RTLS providers—we’ve seen duress signals from competitor systems delayed by up to 15 seconds.

Why RTLS for Complex Physical Environments is a Safe, Smart Bet

When you’re looking for an RTLS solution that meets your facility’s needs, make sure to look for one that is agile, flexible and customizable. Mental health facilities are what we term “complex physical environments.” They feature high people density, a variety of building materials, signal-scrambling machines and staffers that work directly with individuals. These facilities also often have features such as separate floors, wings, basements and kitchens. Many RTLS providers fail to account for this complexity—meaning duress or location signals are scrambled, delayed, unable to pass through dense walls or too easily able to skate through thin walls. 

At Actall, we customize our RTLS solutions for each and every facility we serve—meaning that you’ll get location, efficiency and duress insight where, when and how you need it. No life-threatening delays, no wasted seconds—and better environments for both staff and residents. 

Learn more about our solutions for behavioral health facilities.