A hospital might be the last place you'd expect to get ripped off, but that's exactly what happened to Lindsay McGrail two months ago, when visiting her 14-year-old granddaughter Kilana at world-renowned Children's Hospital Los Angeles.
"These thieves are just taking advantage of people when they're at their lowest," said McGrail, who realized someone has rifled through her purse, which she left it for just a few minutes in her granddaughter's hospital room.
"I got an alert that my American Express card had been charged 2600 dollars. And when I looked in my wallet, my American Express card was gone," McGrail said.
The NBC4 I-Team has discovered that Children's Hospital LA has far more reported thefts than other nearby hospitals of comparable size: Kaiser Hollywood and Hollywood Presbyterian. And we discovered that thefts at hospitals are up nationwide, according to an analysis of crime reports by the International Association for Healthcare Security and Safety.
And security experts say the statistics don't even tell the whole story. "Most hospital thefts are not reported," says Jon Westall, chairman of the board for the International Association for Healthcare Security and Safety, who has been in charge of security at two major southern California medical centers.
Westall says patients and visitors mistakenly believe everyone at a hospital is trusting and caring. "Even if you're just going to the restroom for a minute, or going to get a soda down the hall, keep your purse or your wallet on you," Westall told the I-Team.
In hindsight, Lindsay McGrail wishes she had done that. Minutes after her credit cards were stolen from a hospital room, someone tried charging items at The Apple Store, then at Orchard Hardware, then at Best Buy. And she discovered something else missing from her purse. "I had 160 dollars in there, and it was gone," she said.
McGrail filed a police report with the LAPD, and says a detective told her theft is a "huge problem" at Children's Hospital LA (CHLA).
The hospital declined the I-Team's request for an interview, to explain why it has more reported thefts. In an email to NBC4, Children's says "each patient [is] accompanied by entire families — as compared with adult facilities referenced which are primarily adult inpatient facilities. And CHLA said it maintains a security patrol system 24/7.
In a letter to Lindsay McGrail, Children's said, "We regret that we fell below your expectations of care and service." The hospital reimbursed McGrail the 160 dollars taken from her purse.
But she thinks the hospital could do more to prevent future thefts, such as installing safes in every room, and posting signs that warn patients and their families that thefts do occur.
"I want to see this end here and I don't want this to happen to anybody else," said McGrail.