May 1, 2005 12:00 PM, By Don Garbera
When a patient is admitted to Norwalk Hospital, a security supervisor visits on the first day. The supervisor addresses a series of questions with the patient including what personal valuables they had at the time of admission and whether the property should be sent home with a family member for safekeeping. The supervisor also educates the patient about safety procedures.
“One of my primary missions here is not only to maintain a high level of safety, but also to increase customer service,” says Joe Hines, director of safety, security and hospital properties.
The hospital is located in Norwalk, Conn., one of the state's major urban areas. Part of Fairfield County and surrounded by affluent towns such as New Canaan, Darien and Westport, the city houses people from all walks of life.
Sitting at the mouth of the Norwalk River on Long Island Sound, Norwalk was once an oyster center — now its economy is built largely on manufacturing. The city also includes several small islands in the harbor and the village of Silvermine, an artists' colony.
Norwalk Hospital is one of the largest medical facilities in the area. Founded more than 100 years ago, it is a 320-bed, not-for-profit, private voluntary acute care facility. It is a Class Two Trauma Center and is on call as the primary receiving hospital for surrounding towns.
Security Director Hines came to the post two years ago, after working in security at John T. Mather Memorial Hospital in Port Jefferson, N.Y.
Another planned change at Norwalk Hospital is movement of the security command center from an enclosed office into the lobby entrance of the Labor and Delivery Unit.
“The budget-neutral move will exhibit a security presence as a deterrent to infant abduction,” Hines explains.
The command center houses a Prosec infant abduction alarm system, American Dynamics Intellex digital video recording capabilities, seven 20-inch Sony LCD monitors, an Aiphone communication system for lobby monitoring and a Software House C·Cure access control system using proximity cards. All systems are backed up by the hospital's network, which, in turn, is backed up off-site. The control facility also monitors a mixture of more than 70 Pelco and American Dynamics cameras located throughout the medical complex.
The C·Cure access control system, with more than 120 card readers and 17 access control panels, limits access to specific doors around the hospital complex — and in particular, the Emergency Room. A complete lock-down can be initiated if necessary, via emergency buttons at the security desk, security office and at the nurse's station. When a button is pushed, all doors in the ER are instantly locked. There are 15 points of entry in the emergency facility including stairwells and interior and exterior entrances.
The psychiatry department can also be locked down as necessary. In addition to the C·Cure system for limiting access, there are mantraps to reduce the risk of patients attempting to exit along with hospital personnel leaving the unit.
Guarding against terrorist attacks
Lock-down capabilities are also essential in the event of a large-scale chemical or nuclear attack involving Norwalk and its surrounding areas.
“If there were such an attack, for example during the Norwalk Oyster Festival held on park grounds near the shore of the Norwalk River, medical teams would, of course, be dispatched to handle contamination of individuals in the area of the attack,” Hines says. “However, there could be people who would panic and not be willing to wait in line to be helped. They might go to Norwalk Hospital's Emergency Room seeking aid. If a contaminated individual or individuals were to get into the emergency unit, it could compromise the hospital by spreading the contamination throughout the facility.”
It's a good enough reason for the hospital, in conjunction with the security department, to practice lock-down procedures. According to Hines, the entire facility can be locked down in less than 10 minutes, thereby allowing no one to enter or exit in the event of a biological or nuclear incident.
As part of the C·Cure system, long-range proximity cards (supplied by AWID) are attached to stretchers coming in from neighboring towns and hospitals via EMS units. For example, if New Canaan's ambulance service brings a patient into the Norwalk Hospital ER, the proximity card attached to the stretcher will immediately open the Emergency Room doors to enable instant access, which is crucial for immediate medical attention.
Proximity cards are part of the employee ID badge system and, in the interest of maintaining privacy, are programmed to exclude certain employees from the Hospital's Winingham Cancer Center (a day treatment facility for cancer patients) on weekends. They are also programmed for specific use by building contractors — incorporating an expiration date.
A Fargo Pro Printer is used to create identification slicks (stickers) to be adhered to plastic proximity cards — enabling the cards, as a cost-saving measure, to be re-used when an employee resigns or is terminated.
Twenty-seven contract safety and security officers, working various shifts, are part of the operation. The officers wear police-type uniforms, supplied by Apollo Security of Walpole, Mass. The uniforms will be changed in the near future to business suits, which include a security name plate, with the officer's name imprinted and attached to the jacket; the goal is to give a concierge look to security personnel.
Recently, the state of Connecticut passed a law requiring security guards to be registered and to go through an eight-hour training course. At Norwalk Hospital, training is provided to security personnel over and above the state-mandated eight-hour course. It consists of IAHSS (International Association of Health Care Safety and Security) training, which covers everything from sexual harassment intervention techniques to criminal and constitutional law, as well as general security practices and procedures. All security officers are also certified in non-violent crisis intervention.
Risks of terminated employees
One of the areas scheduled for improvement in the near future is the length of time it takes for the security department to be notified of a terminated employee.
“Currently, the largest risk we have is a dismissed employee walking around out there with an active proximity card in his or her possession, and security not being notified of their termination,” Hines says. “One of the projects we will be embarking on is tying into the hospital's upgrading of hospital management systems to the PeopleSoft human resources system. Software House makes a program for C·cure that ties into PeopleSoft to enable the C·Cure system to be immediately notified when a person is terminated.”
Plans for the future
What other improvements are planned?
“We're looking to eventually replace our access control gates in the parking facilities. We are also planning to add more access control points, as well as more cameras throughout the hospital complex,” Hines says.
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