Hospitals are open environments, which is chiefly what makes them welcoming to people in need of care. But that feature also means that security must be a top priority to protect both caregivers and patients. Baptist Health Care in Pensacola, Florida, is a community-owned, nonprofit healthcare network that services northwest Florida and southern Alabama. With six locations, including three hospital campuses, the healthcare organization is constantly seeking ways to improve its environment of care, says Mike Viola, director of support services. “Patients specifically are here because they don’t feel well or they need healing, so we need to maintain a healing environment,” he says, “and there is a need for security in that healthcare environment to maintain safety and order.”
Viola tells Security Management that the Gulf Breeze campus, which includes Baptist Health Care’s largest hospital, has a strong security posture. There is a central monitoring station where security cameras are observed around the clock. There are callboxes around the perimeter for anyone who may run into trouble or have an incident outside the facilities. In addition, the hospital contracts with a guard service provider to provide a constant security presence. The hospital is also accredited by the Joint Commission, a regulatory group that certifies healthcare facilities and conducts a review of security management plans.
With that in mind, when the previous guard service provider’s contract was running out at the Gulf Breeze Hospital campus, Baptist Health Care launched a request for proposal (RFP) process to find the right candidate to start a new contract. It worked with MedAssets, a healthcare performance improvement company, to develop the RFP.
Viola says Baptist needed a service that would be cost-effective, given tight budgets. But it was also critical that the company it chose understood the unique needs of a healthcare environment and was a good fit for its culture. “We weren’t dissatisfied or displeased with our contract provider [at the time], but we were looking to enhance and improve the level of service we received,” he says.
During the RFP process, MedAssets approached ABM about vying for the contract. Viola says that ABM stood out among the three companies Baptist ultimately interviewed. “ABM was a very good fit with our culture,” says Viola. “They had the level of experience we were looking for, and they were confident in the healthcare security industry.” In April of this year, ABM began its contract to provide guard services at the Gulf Breeze campus.
To familiarize incoming officers with its culture, Baptist Health Care has an onboarding process for new security personnel that includes online learning modules and classroom training. “The security officers, if they showed up on post without truly understanding our culture, we would have a disconnect,” says Viola. In addition, security officers in Florida are required to undergo separate, state-run healthcare security training. Some of the ABM officers at Gulf Breeze are armed and must undergo additional training. While some officers carry guns, Viola says Baptist Health Care has looked into nonlethal weapon use, such as Tasers, but it has not deployed such devices.
One value-add that Viola says ABM provides is its own proprietary security technology, called OfficerPulse. The software, which is installed on tablets carried by officers and in patrol vehicles, provides the guards with real-time information about the campus they are protecting and a log of activity. From this portal, guards can also complete reports, and pins can be dropped via a GPS map on locations where service is required.
In addition to its proprietary software, ABM introduced Gulf Breeze Hospital to FAST-PASS Visitor Management Solutions. The system provides instant visual verification of known visitors and alerts the security desk when a visitor comes in so they can be properly identified and receive a temporary badge. Viola says that this visitor management solution is a great fit for the hospital, which goes down to a single point of entry at the emergency department entrance after-hours.
Viola adds that the emergency department is one part of the facility where added security measures are in place. The hospital is located in an urban environment. “We utilize our partnership with our local law enforcement agencies and use those off-duty officers for a presence, most often in the emergency department,” he says.
One challenge faced by the officers is patients or visitors who carry weapons—Florida is a concealed-carry state. Although Baptist Health Care has installed metal detectors to help deter this potential threat, often a weapon is discovered long after the person has been in the facility, such as during the diagnostic process.
“It’s very important that our officers know how to respond to that and use the appropriate level of response, and to not overreact,” says Viola. He notes that law enforcement–and sometimes family members–become involved to help remove the weapon from the premises.
Another aspect of ABM officers’ duties is de-escalation training, which helps them properly defuse a tense situation. Viola says that the behavioral health department is a common setting where this training is put to use; but it can be seen anywhere in the hospital at any time, depending on the situation.
“You’re dealing with patients that are all different backgrounds and medical issues and visitors too, and you have to control the entire environment,” notes Viola.
Slip and fall incidents are common around the perimeter of the campus, especially in the parking lot. When such accidents happen, Viola notes that the guards are the first ones on the scene. After an officer reports an incident, he or she must undergo a root-cause analysis process so that future situations can be prevented or handled even more efficiently.
Viola says that investing in its officers is investing in its healthcare network. That investment paid off recently when ABM officers successfully escorted a recently terminated employee off of the hospital grounds.
“Security officers are the eyes and ears of the organization. They’re often the first people that a patient or visitor sees when they arrive on campus…so they truly are ambassadors to our hospital,” he says.