Anjanette Hebert, Director of Healthcare, is a Certified Healthcare Protection Administrator (CHPA), and a Certified Healthcare Emergency Planner (CHEP). With over 30 years’ experience as a qualified emergency preparedness, security and safety expert, Anjanette reveals misconceptions she has found to be common amongst healthcare professionals.
As I reflect on my career, I’m reminded of how many times my colleagues and I commented about writing a book to document all the crazy things that occur in a hospital. In the beginning of my career, young and naïve, I was often confronted by other staff with misconceptions that created barriers to building effective relationships and programs. Over time, I learned the importance of overcoming those barriers by dispelling those misconceptions rather than giving in to them.
Misconception #1: Hospital security isn’t that important
This is more of a fault made by many hospital executives, which is not considering security as an integral, strategic part of their organization. I’m happy to say that I see examples across the continent where this is not the case. In these organizations, security is integrated at every level. There is an executive level position for security, a multi-year security master plan and dedicated and appropriate resources (manpower and technology) are provided. These are in accordance with the assessed risk, and security processes are integrated into the overall strategic operations of the facility.
Misconception #2: Security can be planned after the building is constructed
Unfortunately, it is often the case that security is treated as an afterthought; something to “apply” on top of the finished product. New construction projects and processes are developed before security is brought into the conversation, which then limits how effective any security measures can be. Arbitrary decisions are made regarding security staffing without benefit of any analysis or assessment. Often, the financial objective is to spend as little as possible without ever doing a cost-benefit analysis. For security to be worth the investment it must first be effective.
Misconception #3: Security is the same in any environment
The largest misconception is that the security function is basically the same everywhere and any type of “security” experience is relevant. Leadership of a healthcare security program requires an extensive understanding of not only private security but also an extensive list of regulations that govern hospitals and interactions with patients. Failure to understand the required training, documentation, and limitations on patient interactions can lead to serious regulatory violations, large fines and even put a hospital’s accreditation in jeopardy. It is important that the security lead be knowledgeable about healthcare and connected into relevant professional security organizations such as the International Association for Healthcare Security and Safety (IAHSS) or ASIS.
Misconception #4: Any Security Officer will do
Having a qualified healthcare security professional leading the security program will ensure appropriate staff selection and training. While a Security Officer working at the mall or the local college may look like the Security Officer working in the hospital, the amount of training required is vastly different.
Hospital Security Officers undergo all the basic training of any general duty Security Officer and then partake in additional hours of specialized training. This ranges from verbal de-escalation to physical management of the aggressive patient and blood-borne pathogens, to recognizing signs of a stroke. These specialized Officers must be skilled in the techniques of observation, customer service, emergency response to a multitude of events and how to interact with a grieving family or the angry response of a patient just receiving bad news. And this is just the tip of the iceberg of what a Hospital Security Officer is expected to handle.
Misconception #5: Security Officers should all be large, armed and intimidating
Considering the amount of training and specialization needed to be an effective healthcare Security Officer this misconception could lead to dangerous consequences if, as security professionals, we allow ourselves to be swayed by the insistent demands of clinical staff who think we should: hire only big, strong, men; hire mostly ex-cops or ex-military; arm all Officers. While none of these are bad or should be excluded from consideration, they are by no means all-inclusive of the qualities necessary to make up an effective security team.
Additionally, the idea that security is more necessary at night and on weekends or only needed in the emergency department and mental health units are often based on conjecture rather than data. All these factors should be considered as part of an overall security risk assessment. Such an assessment should drive decisions on types and numbers of Security Officers needed, types of training needed, whether to arm all or part of the staff, where to post Security Officers and the need for patrol Officers.
Misconception #6: Technology solves all security issues
Perhaps the most overlooked misconception is that technology can prevent incidents from happening. I have countless examples of staff and managers being so surprised that something could go missing, someone could gain access, a patient could elope, etc., because there were cameras, access control or other devices in place. This surprise often coming from the very same staff who prop doors open, allow persons to tailgate behind them at restricted entrances and fail to contact security at the presence of someone suspicious or out of place. The lesson here – educate staff that they are always the first line of defense and the technology in place serves as a backup and a fail safe. The most effective security program involves engaged staff taking ownership for their part in the safety and security of the organization.
As security professionals it is incumbent upon us to ensure that misconceptions about our beloved profession are met with good, accurate information and data. Particularly in healthcare, where data drives the business, we stand a much better chance of proving our position and dispelling misconceptions if we present our argument in the form of valid data.