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A tonic for hospital security.

SECURITY'S ROLE IN A PRIVATE enterprise is often misunderstood. That is perhaps most prevalent in health care facilities.

There, security is often thought to contribute to neither the healing nor the profit-generating process. Security is generally viewed as an expense, a service that is required solely for insurance purposes and for its presumed public image value.

That fallacy is being laid to rest by enlightened health care administrators around the world. They understand that security is cost-effective. Security not only decreases liability but also, in a modern, nontraditional health care facility, directly supports both healing and profit.

At the 124-bed Reston Hospital Center (RHC) in northern Virginia, security contributes to both healing and profit by playing a supportive role. At that facility, nontraditional security provides an environment in which the various health-care profit centers can function most effectively. The key elements of this success lie in the terms supportive and nontraditional.

The RHC security department, which consists of five full-time and two parttime officers, responded to more than 1,600 official calls in April 1991 alone. The number of unofficial calls is probably eight to 10 times larger. That's because the officers do not consider community service unusual enough to merit an official entry in their daily reports.

One officer explains, "We do so many battery jump starts and 'slim-jim' operations on locked vehicles that it would take longer to record them than to actually do them." He notes that "our patients and their visitors all know what we do for them" without the officers' recording it for the administration.

The quality of services provided to a hospital reflects the personality, character, and background of the officers choosing security careers in health care. Every month, officers on the 11:00 pm to 7:00 am shift provide more than 550 parking lot escorts ro female staff members at shift change.

All female employees are picked up in the security van at the entrance to the emergency room and taken to their cars at night. The officers wait until each employee is safety locked in her vehicle with the motor running before dropping off the next passenger. The same service is provided to all female physicians, patients, and visitors at the adjacent medical office building.

During the winter months all security officers clean ice and snow off windshields. If asked, they will start and warm up cars for employees, patients, and visitors. Some officers have been known to follow employees home during bad weather to ensure their safety. Such missions are done after shift change and on their own time.

When the hospital is secured for the night, security officers provide escorts within the building to all visitors who enter through the emergency room to other areas (about 33 per month).

The officers receive an average of67 monthly after-hours deliveries from vendors. They accept the items and take them to the requesting departments. In their spare time, officers help the night engineer on projects requiring more than one pair of hands (about 30 calls per month).

The 7:00 am to 3:00 pm officers contribute much (over 40 monthly calls) to the assistance rendered by the emergency room and the county fire and rescue units to patients coming to the hospital. In addition, security officers transport patients to the medical office building by ambulance (about 36 calls per month).

Additionally, the day-shift officers, many of whom are also emergency medical technicians, monitor suicidal patients (eight calls per month) and transport bodies from the medical and surgical floors to the morgue and release them to the various mortuaries (37 calls per month).

Most of the 3:00 pm to 11:00 pm officers are well-known for their devotion beyond the call of duty. Those officers use their electronic talents to operate the telecommunications system, providing welcome relief to tired operators (112 calls per month); repair, replace, or otherwise maintain the telephone system throughout the hospital (18 calls per month); control, maintain, and operate the videocassette recorder system for patient entertainment and staff education (30 calls per month); and collect and safeguard patients' valuables (51 calls per month).

The officers also help employees who have nonsecurity problems (67 calls per month), visitors who need nonmedical assistance (31 calls per month), physicians who need assistance with incapaciated patients (43 calls per month), disabled patients who need escorts to their vehicles (16 calls per month), and anyone whoe needs the lost and found (15 calls per month).

It is not unusual to see officers helping to move exceptionally heavy patients in radiology or on the medical and surgical floors. Officers are often the first to respond to life-or-death calls for nonsecurity assistance (15 calls per month), especially threats to the staff from combative patients (two calls per month), aggressive or hostile visitors (two calls per month), or intoxicated persons requiring eviction from the premises (six calls per month).

The key to the success of a hospital security department is its director. The security director at RHC refers homeless people to the local county shelter (12 calls per months); supervises the use of the security vehicles in picking up and transporting special equipment from other hospitals; and serves as ground control officer for helicopter evacuations (seven calls per month).

All the security staffers lend their talents to this unique departmental effort in the hospital. One officer provides translations for patients and medical staff (37 calls per month). This need for translations comes from the hospital's proximity to an international airport and the growing foreign community in northern Virginia.

EACH OF THE FUNCTIONS DESCRIBED SO far contributes to healing and profit without the need for additional personnel or other costs for the hospital and its adjacent medical office building.

The services rendered are not usually performed by security departments. However, performing those services frees highly trained, highly paid medical experts to perform other patient-and profit-related functions.

A clear example of such services is that of providing translation services to the patients, doctors, nurses, and staff. Healing cannot occur without effective communication between patients and medical personnel. Also, patients might not go to a hospital that did not provide such services.

In addition, some non-English speaking patients come to RHC precisely because the security department provides translation services. Thus, through its supportive role, the department has become a profit-generating center.

Of course, the department also performs all the traditional security duties normally required. It responds to about 750 calls per month to lock and unlock doors, cabinets, and desks.

The director personally responds to fire alarms (two calls per month), enforces fire lane violations (17 calls per month), investigates suspicious persons and vehicles (seven calls per month), processes employee complaints about parking (21 calls per month), and assists the nursing supervisor with administrative responsibilities (seven calls per month).

Changing times require innovative responses from hospital administrators and their staffs. The success of the security program at RHC shows the benefits that can come from a nontraditional, supportive approach to security.

Paul Saenz is senior security officer at Reston Hospital Center in Reston, VA. He is also president of Saenz International Inc., a security consulting firm in Manassas, VA, and is a member of ASIS.
COPYRIGHT 1992 American Society for Industrial Security
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Saenz, Paul
Publication:Security Management
Date:Feb 1, 1992
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