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Managing Editor, IFSEC Insider

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James Moore is the Managing Editor of IFSEC Insider, the leading online publication for security and fire news in the industry.James writes, commissions, edits and produces content for IFSEC Insider, including articles, breaking news stories and exclusive industry reports. He liaises and speaks with leading industry figures, vendors and associations to ensure security and fire professionals remain abreast of all the latest developments in the sector.
July 3, 2023

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Healthcare security

Global healthcare’s security leaders see the benefits of collaboration

Despite healthcare operations functioning in very different environments, three leading security figures in the sector outline why they all face similar threats. Here, IFSEC Insider hears from Eric Clay, Danielle Austin and Roger Ringham about the new approaches each has taken to dealing with problems ranging from identifying risks to tackling workplace violence against staff.   

There are striking similarities in the risks facing healthcare organisations globally.

In Australia, the US and the UK, hospitals and community health services are under pressure from rising demand post-pandemic. The increased stress that systems are under is being compounded by difficulties recruiting and retaining staff.

In addition, there is concern about rising levels of violence and aggression against healthcare workers, and the harmful impact it has on services, on costs, and of course on individuals.

This is raising the profile of security services and helping to drive innovation in the sector, as chief executives and CFOs better understand the importance protecting staff, and the cost implications of failing to do so.

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Image credit: Carolyn Franks/AlamyStock


Against this backdrop, it’s perhaps not surprising that closer links are being forged between leading security practitioners globally. IAHSS (the International Association of Healthcare Security Services) in the US, NAHS (the National Association of Healthcare Security) in the UK, and IAHSS in Australia see increased value in mutual support and information exchange.

To find out about the new approaches they are taking to dealing with their common problems – and also about the differences between them – we brought together senior representatives from each of these three organisations.

As well as serving as the current chair of NAHS, Roger Ringham is Assistant Director of SAFE Security and Fraud Experts and Head of Security for Dorset Healthcare University NHS Foundation Trust. Eric Clay recently took over as President at IAHSS, and is Vice President of Security at Memorial Hermann Health System in Texas. And Danielle Austin, chapter chair of the Australian IAHSS, is Incident Response Manager at St Vincent’s Health Network in Sydney.


Listen to Roger Ringham discuss the challenges of the COVID pandemic to healthcare settings on the IFSEC Insider podcast.

Moving from a reactive to proactive approach

Danielle kicked off our discussion by highlighting how far the security service at St Vincent’s has changed in recent years, switching from what she describes as a 90% reactive model, to a largely proactive one.

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Danielle Austin

This has required a significant shift in the way security staff are positioned: rather than standing back, and being expected to step in with handcuffs if an incident escalates, they are now working with clinical teams to identify the patients and situations that present higher risks. The handcuffs have been dispensed with, the uniforms softened, and officers work alongside medical staff.

It was a move which some clinicians did not welcome at the time but the results have been transformative. There is now much greater emphasis on conflict prevention and de-escalation, rather than enforcement.


Editor’s note: at the time of writing, the importance of conflict de-escalation in care settings is thrown into relief by news that New South Wales police officers have been criticised for tasering a 95-year-old woman with dementia at a care home].


Roger agrees that a proactive approach has become more important, post-pandemic, including identifying risks and collecting data around violence and aggression.

“We do a lot of detailed data analysis in terms of where incidents occur, why they occur, and who is involved. And when you drill down you see some significant impacts.

“For example, sickness and absence are clearly much higher where staff are being persistently assaulted. If we look at our average workforce sickness and absence metrics, then it’s probably in the region of 4-6%. But in higher risk areas, it gets as high as 20%.

“Trying to recruit into those posts is particularly difficult, and when you can’t recruit, that increases your spending on bank and agency staff.”

This data not only confirms how important it is to tackle the problem of violence and aggression, underscoring the need for more effective approaches, at Dorset it is helping Roger’s team to direct resources to where they can make the biggest difference.

Eric adds that, like Danielle, he has been working to shift perceptions such that his team is viewed as a part of the extended patient care team.

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Eric Clay

“At Memorial Hermann, we developed a purposeful rounding program that has security officers moving and interacting early and often with our staff, making sure they’re aware of potential problems before they become more significant problems.”

In collaboration with Memorial Hermann’s workplace violence steering committee, a multidisciplinary group tasked with developing initiatives to help prevent and reduce workplace violence across the health system, Eric and his team have outlined key areas of focus and implemented a myriad of security initiatives.

“As part of our ongoing efforts to enhance workplace safety, we recently expanded our security officer population to meet increased security demand in our emergency centres and to ensure coverage around the clock at all of our hospitals.

“As an added level of security, we also just launched efforts to install weapons detection systems at emergency center entrances in some of our acute care facilities, managed and operated by trained security officers,” said Eric.

In addition, the Memorial Hermann team proudly launched its Kindness Campaign. This is an initiative aimed at fostering a safe and caring environment at all of the system’s facilities via signage that reminds visitors and patients that their caregivers are people, too, and that the system expects its employees to be treated with kindness and respect.

Different context, shared challenges and convictions – “More must be done to protect healthcare staff”

There are big differences between the health systems that these three leaders are responsible for.  The scale of Eric’s operation is daunting – he has 14 hospitals and more than 200 care delivery sites to safeguard.

Roger’s health trust in Dorset delivers a high proportion of its services in difficult community settings, and NHS budgets are under particular pressure. Meanwhile, Danielle’s team is responsible for a major teaching hospital which is also deeply involved in community health and outreach programmes which bring particular challenges.

Eric’s officers are armed and have to be prepared for active shooter threats in a way that neither Roger’s nor Danielle’s teams do.

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Firearm training in the US, highlighting the different environments security teams face in healthcare settings from country to country

But for all these differences, they share a conviction that more can be done – and must be done – to protect healthcare staff at work.

“Understanding that workplace safety remains top of mind for our employees, our system joins others across the country to participate in initiatives to raise awareness against workplace violence such as Hospitals Against Gun Violence, National Workplace Violence Awareness Month and most recently Nurse Day at the Texas State Capitol, where members of our workforce successfully advocated for legislation that will support the safety and well-being of healthcare workers,” Eric said.

Roger agrees and says it’s important to make a direct link between security provision and staff retention when talking to senior executives.

“When I first started in the role, coming from a police background, I would talk about incident numbers, threat levels etc. But now, I focus on workforce metrics, sickness and absence, and loss of productivity.

“Directors of finance and heads of HR pay more attention when the discussion is around the cost of recruitment, of using agency staff, or the potential cost of litigation if there’s a failure.”

Danielle says she is fortunate to have a CEO very much focused on staff wellbeing and retention.

“Over the years we’ve been able to prove ourselves by reducing lost time and injury costs. It really helps that my security manager Ross Judd has a background in police criminal data analysis, and he has put together a dashboard giving objective, real-time data on violence and aggression across the organisation.”

Industry collaboration – A vital component in present and future success

Roger Ringham

Danielle, Eric and Roger are all innovators, and all three are deeply engaged in their wider peer networks through their leadership roles in their respective associations, both nationally and internationally.

Eric and Roger took the opportunity to connect at the recent SafeZone user conference in Birmingham, while Danielle joined them virtually and made a presentation explaining the new approach to violence reduction being taken at St Vincent’s.

It was an event which further highlighted the benefits of cooperation between institutions, and between representative bodies internationally, something all three of our contributors are committed to taking forward.


IFSEC Insider also spoke to Bonnie Michelman in January, who is responsible for managing the security processes and team of the largest healthcare provider in the state of Massachusetts, Mass General Brigham, which includes 13 hospitals and hundreds of satellites. Have a read of the full write up with Bonnie here, or listen to the IFSEC Insider podcast below…

 

Listen to the IFSEC Insider podcast!

Each month, the IFSEC Insider (formerly IFSEC Global) Security in Focus podcast brings you conversations with leading figures in the physical security industry. Covering everything from risk management principles and building a security culture, to the key trends ahead in tech and initiatives on diversity and inclusivity, the podcast keeps security professionals up to date with the latest hot topics in the sector.

Available online, and on Spotify, Apple Podcasts and Google Podcasts, tune in for an easy way to remain up to date on the issues affecting your role.

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