A New Attitude Toward Hospital Security: The Wellness Approach

Chief of the University of Texas at Houston Police Department William Adcox is Campus Safety magazine’s Healthcare Director of the Year.

Ask practically any hospital CEO to name the top priority of his or her organization, and they will most likely say “improving health.” Ask most police chiefs or security directors the same question, however, and their top goal is often very different – it’s to apprehend criminals.

To University of Texas at Houston (UTP-H) Police Chief William Adcox, who is this year’s Campus Safety Healthcare Director of the Year, this mindset isn’t appropriate for traditional police agencies in general and particularly for hospitals. This is especially true for healthcare facilities like the MD Anderson Cancer Center where cancer patients and their families are under incredible amounts of stress.

Adcox is also finding that domestic violence incidents are spilling over into hospital workplaces, including UT’s.

RELATED: Creating Threat Assessment Teams in Medical Facilities

“There was a 2014 study of education, healthcare and transportation employees. It found that 18 percent of this group of employees are currently experiencing some form of intimate partner violence,” he says. “If we’re at 26,000 employees at both institutions and 18 percent are being victimized, you’ve got potential minefields all over your campus, statistically at least.”

Adcox believes embracing the traditional law enforcement approach in this type of setting, which is mostly reactive, leads to officers often missing the opportunity to intervene before a situation escalates.

“Many police agencies will not work potential threat cases if the evidence is lacking or if the threats are not specific,” he claims. “They won’t get engaged on the front end as much as we would like them to. You have to avoid falling into the prosecution trap.”

The Adcox File

Résumé: William H. Adcox is the chief of the University of Texas Police at Houston (UTP-H) and has held that position for 11 years. Prior to his time there he was chief police at the University of Texas at El Paso for five years, and before that he served with the El Paso Police Department for 21 years. He is a member of the IACP, IACLEA, ASIS, IAHSS, Police Executive Research Forum, Texas Police Chiefs Assn. and Association of Threat Assessment Professionals.

Campus: The University of Texas (UT) MD Anderson Cancer Center and UT Health Science Center (UT Health) are located in the heart of the largest medical center in the world: the Texas Medical Center. Additionally, the institutions have two research campuses in Austin. They have more than 28,000 hospital admissions and 1.3 million outpatient clinic visits, treatments and procedures every year. Both institutions have a combined workforce of approximately 26,000, plus about 4,000 contingency workers and volunteers. The hospital has 654 beds.
Department: UTP-H has been in existence for more than 40 years and has 98 sworn officers, 200 nonsworn officers and 52 civilian/support personnel. It has a 70 percent minority representation. Its sworn staff members are armed and are commissioned Texas peace officers. The department’s jurisdiction covers more than 20 million square feet of assignable building space on more than 2,300 acres, including rural campuses. In 2014, the agency earned CALEA’s Meritorious Gold Standard Accreditation with Excellence. It is also accredited by IACLEA and the Texas Police Chiefs Assn.

The solution, says Adcox, is getting officers and their departments closer to their community so they can be proactive.

“I shouldn’t just wait until there’s been an incident,” he says. “I should be working with these families. Maybe there was domestic violence and maybe by law I have to arrest the husband or wife, but really, what’s going on in the house? Is there a social service that can come out? How do I look at it holistically so I don’t have to come back there?

“We’re more guardians than we are warriors,” he adds. “Although we can respond rapidly to an active shooter with the best trained officers, we don’t want to have to do that. We want to prevent it as much as we can.”

With this understanding then, Adcox has transformed his department into an agency that embraces threat management and looks beyond the fact that a crime may have been committed. His officers have been trained to evaluate the dynamics of a situation and what is actually being communicated. Then they can engage individuals in an attempt to provide them help before a situation turns violent or deadly. Simply put, the focus is on wellness rather than catching bad guys.

The results of this change in thinking are truly impressive. Since 2012, the department has experienced a 300 percent increase in early intervention reporting by hospital staff. Because the police department focuses on wellness as opposed to a “book ’em Danno” philosophy, hospital employees feel more comfortable reporting concerning behavior because they aren’t snitching to get one of their fellow employees or someone else they know in trouble. They are reporting the behavior so Adcox’s officers can get these individuals help before their behavior escalates to criminal activity or harm to themselves or others.

Executive Support Is Critical
Getting to this point has been a long process, which Adcox and his officers started by developing buy-in from top hospital administrators.

“We began talking one-on-one with executives. It took two-and-a-half years,” he says. “We’d sit down and talk to them about risk and threats. As an overall department, we basically were talking about the strategic map and how [the threat management and proactive approach] were in alignment with where the institution was going and how we would actually bring about institutional risk reduction. [We discussed] how we as an organization would enhance wellness or organizational health. We asked them what keeps them up at night and what’s really important to them. It’s then easy to transition a lot of that talk into what we need to do to stop being reactive to an incident once it occurs.”

Adcox’s department was then able to create an all-hazard risk leadership council so he and his officers could look at risks across the institution without being in silos.

“You don’t go in and say it will be great for the police department to do their job,” he adds. “We say, ‘Are you concerned about damage to our brand? Are you concerned about the financial damage [should an incident occur]? Are you concerned about the regulatory liability areas?’

“Then you provide the solution. It might be a threat management operation. It might be a set of cameras or biometric locking systems in certain areas where there’s a lot of radiation.”

Fast Facts

  • Since 2012, the department has experienced a 300% increase in early intervention reporting
  • Over a four-month period, UTP-H was involved in 11 suicide interventions that resulted in the subjects being taken to a psychiatric facility for an Emergency Detention Order. Ten of those individuals were employees or affiliated with the institution.
  • During that same four-month period, the Threat Management Unit intervened in 18 cases in which the subject was at high risk for committing violence.

UTP-H Caseload Doubled in First Year
Once UTP-H obtained buy-in from the appropriate stakehold
ers and the all-hazard risk leadership council, the threat management unit was created with the help of the hospital’s behavioral intervention team. Officers were trained by the National Association of Behavioral Intervention Teams, and the local police department got involved. Then a pilot was created. Additionally, all officers are in the process of receiving mental health training.

Non-security hospital staff were also trained on how to recognize and report concerning behavior. As a result of these educational efforts, UTP-H’s caseload doubled in the first year of the pilot. Based on the increased demand and support from hospital executives, the department was allocated more resources and personnel for the threat management program.

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About the Author

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Robin has been covering the security and campus law enforcement industries since 1998 and is a specialist in school, university and hospital security, public safety and emergency management, as well as emerging technologies and systems integration. She joined CS in 2005 and has authored award-winning editorial on campus law enforcement and security funding, officer recruitment and retention, access control, IP video, network integration, event management, crime trends, the Clery Act, Title IX compliance, sexual assault, dating abuse, emergency communications, incident management software and more. Robin has been featured on national and local media outlets and was formerly associate editor for the trade publication Security Sales & Integration. She obtained her undergraduate degree in history from California State University, Long Beach.

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