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Can the TSA Teach Us a Lesson in Long-Term Care? It Depends!

Editor’s note: This article was written by guest blogger Anthony Cirillo, FACHE, ABC, a healthcare marketing and experience management expert and expert guide in assisted living for about.com. For more information about the author, please see our About page.

By now you have heard the story of the 95-year-old Hastings, MI woman Lena Reppert, the one she described as “a wee bit embarrassing.” While going through security in a wheelchair, she was taken by a TSA officer in Florida into a glassed-in area where a pat down ensued. They said they felt something suspicious on her leg and they couldn’t determine what it was. Turns out it was her Depends undergarment, which TSA said was “wet and it was firm, and they couldn’t check it thoroughly.” In the end Lena went through security with no underwear.

Turns out mom was much more calm about the situation than her daughter, Jean Weber. During the process, Weber lost her gate pass and was then not allowed to take her mother to the gate. She was sobbing because of what her mother was forced to go through.

“They took excessive measures,” said Weber. And she believes that the TSA needs to change their procedures for people in wheelchairs.

Here is my take. Checklists often trump common sense.

The TSA has rules and regulations. And the undergarment in their mind posed a potential threat given recent history. A rule is a rule is a rule….

However, this was a 95-year-old woman. In a wheelchair. With leukemia.

I think L.A. Times columnist Jonah Goldberg said it best when he wrote that we can’t expect TSA workers to use common sense or discretion if they aren’t trained to do so. The Israelis, he said, have intelligent screeners who are trained to use interviews to inspect people. They aren’t likely to be caught with their hands in someone’s diaper.

In healthcare, checklists, regulations, administrators, corporate, and on and on – all spell out exactly what needs to be done. And so even when an otherwise common sense decision is begging to be made right before your eyes, we have become blind to common sense. I believe that healthcare workers need to revisit and connect with the passion and purpose in which they entered the field. And further they should be given the power to innovate and be empowered to make decisions – yes, even common sense ones. Let’s depend on that.