Make sure hospital security doesn’t stray from its role

Hospital security often suffers from complacency and poorly defined roles for the security staff, says a specialist who helps health care providers improve their programs. One of the best ways to improve your security is to make sure your officers aren’t misused as impromptu assistants for all manner of scut work, he says.

Security officers in health care often take on way too much work that has nothing to do with protection, says Fredrick G. Roll, MA, CHPA-F, CPP, a health care security consultant in Morrison, CO. Roll offered advice on improving health care security at the recent meeting of the American Society for Healthcare Risk Management (ASHRM) in Nashville, TN. When security officers take on additional duties, they are inevitably drawn away from the more vital functions that involve protecting life and property.

"I have seen hospitals have security officers do cleaning, unclog toilets, and run various errands. One worked in the morgue and was responsible for putting toe tags on the bodies," he says. "Some of that is clearly inappropriate; but on the other hand, it is reasonable to have security do some services like escorts and jump starts and opening locked cars."

Where to draw the line

The question is where to draw the line, Roll says. Health care security staff aren’t police officers, so they don’t have to be on patrol every minute of their shifts, but you also don’t want them away from security duties when trouble arises. It won’t look good later if you have to explain why it took so long for the security officer to show up. "If your security officer was upstairs unclogging a toilet when someone got hurt, take out your checkbook and start writing," he says.

Health care providers often contract for security services, so you may not have complete control over the attitude of officers. Most contract security services lean in one of two directions, Roll says. Either they say, "We’re cops, and we don’t do those other things," or they say, "We’ll do anything you want us to do so we can keep the contract."

Neither is really ideal, he says. "Be cautious with those contractors who are willing to do anything you want just to keep the contract," he says. "That can be very tempting when the hospital is looking for ways to cut back and spread duties to other people, but remember, the liability will be yours in the end. The contractor is going to say they were doing what you asked them to do."

Assess security response times

So how do you know what other duties your security staff can take on? Roll says you first should assess how well they’re performing their primary security duties. The more comfortable you are with their response times for emergencies, the more you can consider adding other duties that might delay that response. The trick is in knowing where the tipping point is, he says.

"My rule of thumb is that I want to see them responding to an emergency with five minutes 95% of the time. For nonemergencies like escort requests, I want to see response within 10 minutes 95% of the time," he says. "If they’re doing that, you might be able to expand their duties. But if you do, you go back and measure it again to see how those duties are affecting response time."