St. Michael’s Medical Center Effectively Manages Risk With Technology, Manpower Overhaul

Read how this Newark, N.J., hospital has reduced thefts and improved employee security.

Wth healthcare institutions struggling to survive these days, it is critical for them to invest wisely. Safety and security professionals constantly strive to justify the means of their investments in their continued efforts to provide a safe and secure environment. This is ever so real at St. Michael’s Medical Center, a 140-year-old medical institution located in the heart of downtown Newark, N.J. The main campus of the medical center is a 350-bed facility, made up of seven multi-story buildings that sit on a full city block. There is one additional off-site campus that houses a 40-bed behavioral health unit.

St. Michael’s has several high-value terrorist target facilities within three miles of its campus. The Prudential building is located just blocks away. There are chemical refineries, major railways, a major international airport, the third largest port in the country and three college campuses. In fact, the region has been rated by terrorism experts as the most dangerous two miles in America.

Providing a safe and secure environment in these tough economic times is also challenging, especially for a non-profit organization. In 2006, Integrated Systems and Services, which is an electronic security systems integrator, was offered the opportunity to come on board to assist the medical center’s restructuring of its security program. The security operation at that time was reactive rather than proactive. The program lacked effective trending or insight into problematic, high-risk or foreseeable hazards. The neighborhood was difficult, with gang activity and daily shootings. Hospital staff always feared the worst. 

In 2007, after a thorough assessment of the security program and the facility, the administration realized they would have to pay now or pay later. Security and safety assessments and incident analysis revealed a high rate of physical and verbal altercations, threats encountered and the potential risks for a major incident.

Along with presenting the findings from the assessments, it was even more important to layout the plan ahead and outline the return on investment (ROI). The ROI here was simple: reduce the risk. Understanding the potential dangers, risk and liability, administration agreed to make an investment to change the quality of the program for a more effective result.  

Security Department Is Restructured

First, we needed to establish a strong foundation, and this meant improving the quality of the staff. In the summer of 2007, a complete revamping of the security staff was conducted, moving from a contracted service to an in-house program. This required screening, interviewing and restructuring the base of approximately 80 officers. A third of the staff was comprised of per diem police officers, one third per diem corrections officers and one third regular full-time security personnel. The plan was to hire high quality and experienced police and corrections officers who were qualified to handle altercations, provide a strong presence and help develop the regular security staff.

Budgeting law enforcement officers provided some interesting positive points that were factored in to help support the salary difference. First of all, as two thirds of the entire staff were off-duty police or corrections officers, they required no benefits, vacation or sick time. Secondly, in hiring these individuals, who only work two or three days per week, you can hire as many as you like, create a pool and work them into schedules as needed. They can cover for your full-time staff who are on vacation or sick without creating any overtime. They are hourly personnel who can create a great deal of flexibility with staffing issues.

Now you have high quality individuals, trained and experienced in dealing with hostile situations. Even more importantly, you have personnel who can quickly call in more resources should the situation demand it.

The initial annual salary budget adjustment in the restructuring of the staff totaled an estimated $120,000, which equaled the cost of just one potential lawsuit that can occur simply from an assault, injury or altercation.

The new staffing change was well received. Clinical staff and administrators felt safe, there was a stronger presence on the floors, situations were handled with professionalism and tact, and there was a significant decline in the number of incidents. In 2009, there were 172 physical/verbal altercations involving patients and staff, visitors and staff or patient-to-patient incidents. In 2010, the number of incidents dropped to 88, a 49% decrease in just one year.

Other areas showed dramatic reductions as well. Theft-related incidents were down 45%, and overall incidents were down in every category. This was more about implementing command presence to deter and improve the ability to appropriately deal with situations swiftly and effectively. This staffing profile has since been the formula to provide the foundation for minimizing our risk and liability in conjunction with our technical security measures.

Renovations, Technology Complete Ugrade

In 2011, the next stage of the plan was ready to be implemented, which was the restructuring for innovative security technology. The facility was fortunate to acquire funding to perform some major and much-needed renovations and expansion projects. 

The first project was a restructuring of the medical center exterior with new driveways, entrances, awnings and parking areas. Next, the facility built a new main lobby, complete with a new café, seating areas, chapel, breast center and admitting suite. The last phase involved the development of the newly expanded emergency department. <p>Walter Pagan, director of safety, security and parking for Saint Michael’s Medical Center (left); Steve Ludeking, ISSI vice president of sales, principle WAPS (middle); and John W. Fluta, ISSI president and CEO, principle WAPS (right) were responsible for initiating and implementing the upgrades at Saint Michael’s Medical Cente</p>

The security program needed to expand to meet the needs of the new facility.  With technical assistance from Eatontown, N.J.-based Integrated Systems and Services Inc. (ISSI), the medical center developed a master plan to meet the security needs of each project. ISSI and its sister company, Wireless Asset Protection Systems (an RFID-based company utilizing duress alarms, asset, patient and infant tracking systems) coordinated most of the upgrades, which included a significant amount of investment dollars by the hospital in new installations.

Although security is not a revenue generating component to the organization, it can provide major savings based on reduced risks that may otherwise lead to lawsuits, settlements or actions required to satisfy a claim. In an effort to greatly reduce risk and liability a few recommendations would be to establish and continuously review incident trending, provide strong physical staff presence, combined with a solid technical system.

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