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Selecting a security consultant.

Sam Spade or your local police department may be helpful. Then again, then may not.

A resident's gold wristwatch is missing. Food and expensive office equipment seem to be "walking out the door." A staffer leaves work for home and discovers an empty parking space where her car used to be.

Or maybe you've heard of any or all of this happening at a neighboring facility.

In either case, you're worried. You don't want this happening in your nursing home, or if it is, you want to stop it. Now.

So, who are you going to call? Most likely, a security consultant.

Security consultants come in all shapes and sizes, but more importantly, with varying degrees of nursing home experience and wildly varying price tags. And, if you're not careful, you can easily end up with someone who: (1) can't do the job, (2) doesn't have time to do the job or finish it, or (3) insists on using technology you thought existed only on "Star Trek."

As in choosing any other vendor, you have to be a "good consumer." You have

to know what your needs are, what's generally available to meet them, what specifically will meet them, at a price you can afford. And, before you begin your search, I would offer a home truth: If you want a nursing home security "expert," you won't find one very easily.

The truth is, there are perhaps six people in the United States with specialized expertise in nursing home security. Unless you have a particular fondness for the glamor of "flying in" your experts, you'll probably want to start your search closer to home. And the good news is, that may be all you'll need.

Being of Scottish descent, and having some familiarity with nursing home realities, I would advise you to start cheap. See if anyone on your staff has had any prior experience with the security problem that concerns you and any solutions to suggest. Perhaps even the relative of a resident might have direct involvement in security matters and would be more than motivated to help you out. Having a resident with a District Attorney for a son, for example, can't hurt.

Perhaps your vendors might have something to offer from similar situations occurring in other facilities they serve. I'm thinking here, primarily, of food service vendors; it would be very surprising if they didn't know of other food theft situations and what was done about them.

Your local police department or sheriff's office will very likely have crime prevention or risk assessment personnel on-hand.

Also, another frequently overlooked local resource are private investigators, many of whom not only have a wealth of experience in dealing with theft and embezzlement, but can be very helpful in preventing its recurrence. They're licensed, too, which helps to some extent identifying reputable outside assistance.

The problem with local consultants, though, may be that they have no real concept of those nursing home realities - the concept, for example, of finite resources so familiar to everyone in this field. They may think, for example, that high-tech surveillance devices - closed-circuit TV and the like - are "a must to do the job right." In some cases they might be. In many cases, they may not.

That's why being a "good consumer" involves, in part, knowing how to screen your would-be security consultants. Aside from asking for their resumes and local references (and even checking a few from the past 12 to 18 months), key questions to ask up front include: "Do you sell any products?" "Do you endorse any products?" "Do you receive compensation from vendors based on your recommendations?" If they seem very insistent that you "need" a high-tech system, a warning flag should go up, at the very least.

Have the applicant demonstrate to you some familiarity with the technology he or she is describing and how it would apply, specifically, to your situation. Ask them to prove that it will work in your particular environment. "High-tech," appropriately used, may indeed stop or prevent the problem. But if there are loopholes - a hallway TV camera, for example, that isn't monitored around the clock - the smart criminal will often figure out a way to get around it.

Also important to find out is just who it is the person you're negotiating with represents. Is he or she in solo practice, perhaps working on a part-time basis? If so, beware of when your consultant's job demands or other competing factors might intrude, leaving your project half-done. Is the company a partnership (and, for that matter, is the person you're dealing with a partner or a sales representative)? It adds to your comfort level to deal with directly with your consultants in any field, and you want to have some certainty that this will be the case. If it's a corporation you're dealing with, you can derive some degree of comfort from the knowledge that it has gone to that extent to establish itself. However, make sure, as always, that the needs you are discussing are yours and not theirs.

Find out if the entity you're talking with is insured against any possible claims that may arise from their work. You don't want to be holding the bag for an invasion-of-privacy suit, for example.

If a particular consultant interests you, get a written proposal defining the scope of the work the consultant will do for you, as well as a fee schedule. You will find fees varying from, say, $35 an hour to $150 an hour - and, as usual, the fee doesn't tell you everything; quality of experience is (or should be) the deciding factor. Next, compare and contrast at least three of these proposals. You may find that, by mixing and matching, you'll come up with exactly the service you want. Tell all of them so and see how they respond.

Finally, at contract stage, it is important to remember to build in penalties for late or incomplete performance. Once you've got an agreement that will do the job and that you can live with, then let them have at it, and cooperate in any way you can.

You should come away from all this with the assurance that you have done all that you reasonably could to make your facility as secure a place as your residents and staff have a right to expect. That's the real bottom line in hiring a security consultant.

Patrick F. Donaldson is President and Senior Consultant of Forbes & Associates, Inc., an Oregon-based corporation involved in risk management. He is a frequent speaker and presented on long-term care security issues.
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Title Annotation:nursing home security
Author:Donaldson, Patrick F.
Publication:Nursing Homes
Date:Nov 1, 1992
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