MANHASSET, Long Island (WABC) -- Security guards who qualify will now be carrying guns within Northwell Health, which is the largest hospital system in New York.
The big change to security protocol comes amid concerns over recent mass shootings.
"I felt we were at a disadvantage and that it was only a matter of time before we would be armed," said Vincent Valenti, a retired NYPD officer from the Bronx who is one of the newly-armed guards at North Shore University Hospital.
The pilot program has already begun at two facilities: North Shore University's 57 acre campus in Manhasset and at Northwell Health's Long Island Jewish Medical Center in New Hyde Park.
Northwell's Southside Hospital in Bay Shore will be next to implement the change, which hospital administrators say stemmed from employee concerns that surfaced during mass shooter drills that have taken place since the shooting last year at Bronx-Lebanon Hospital.
Before that, there was also a parking lot incident in 2016 in which a gun was fired near Southside Hospital.
"People said if we have somebody, God forbid, who's here, firing a firearm, something that we all witnessed in the Bronx, a lot of questions started to be raised about what's our kind of approach to this?" North Shore University Hospital Deputy Executive Director Jon Sendach said.
Northwell emphasizes that any guard carrying a gun must be a former law enforcement officer and properly licensed. The guard must also take an eight-hour training course on shooting protocol.
"Everybody watches the news, and they see what's going on around the country and in the world," Northwell's Assistant Vice President for Security Scott Strauss said. "And they just want to make sure they're protected."
The change also stemmed from the idea that a hospital, unlike a school or office, is a place where employees and patients are tethered to their location.
"Our employees are here to care for patients, and those patients can't just get up and run away," Sendach said.
Patients and visitors give the policy mixed reviews.
"If they're qualified, yes, I think they should be armed," 88-year-old outpatient James Cooper said.
Visitor Jane Brody disagreed.
"It doesn't make me feel safer," she said. "Frankly, it makes me feel less safe."
Valenti described the change from before to now quite bluntly.
"I felt like a sitting duck," he said. "So right now, I feel like we're at an advantage."
Northwell hopes to arm guards at its 23 hospitals in New York by year's end.