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Who’s Watching the Lobby?

Co-op residents who share their buildings with doctors’ offices are on high alert.

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It’s like a Brian De Palma movie made real: a therapist murdered in her office around the time when residents of the Upper East Side co-op where it was located were coming home. The attacker told the doorman he was seeing Dr. Kathryn Faughey’s colleague Dr. Kent D. Shinbach; soon after, Faughey was dead and Shinbach injured. It’s set off a new, higher level of paranoia. “I wouldn’t want to live in a building where there were professional offices in the lobby. This is a real security risk,” reads one post on Urbanbaby. “If somebody walks in and says, ‘I’m here to see so-and-so,’ I’m not so sure everyone sits down and puts down names,” one local resident complained to NY1.

No wonder Mary Ann Rothman, executive director of the Council of New York Cooperatives and Condominiums, recommends that members—the organization has 2,000 co-ops and condos on its roster—reevaluate their safety measures, especially if they have professional suites accessible from indoors. Foot traffic in them is higher than in purely residential buildings, and if the office isn’t visible to doormen, criminals could sneak into other parts of the building. “This is a horrific wake-up call,” Rothman says. Corcoran broker Paul Wexler, who specializes in these properties, says “a fairly large number” of these offices have lobby entrances, instead of entrances directly from the street. Certain kinds of doctors—plastic surgeons, fertility experts—prefer them for anonymity; that way, boldface names who might be paparazzi bait would only be seen entering a residential building, rather than a clinic.

Co-op lawyer Steve Wagner thinks landlords and co-op and condo boards, which are responsible for building security, should have a procedure for checking in visitors—and, more important, that it should be enforced. Already, some buildings require that patients be announced, just like most visitors. Others ask doctors’ offices to provide names of people with appointments. But these suggestions may run afoul of ethics. “Giving a patient list would be a violation of privacy laws,” says Dr. Sharon Brennan, a Manhattan clinical psychologist. “Confidentiality is a must.” She suggests camera-equipped buzzers so doctors can identify would-be visitors. But the extra measures may not be enough. “Whenever there’s a tragic event, people start thinking how to do things differently,” says Wexler.


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