A Changing Profile

A Changing Profile

COVID-19 has heightened day-to-day risks

Healthcare facilities were already a complex security environment due to the number of moving pieces and literal life or death situations faced daily. However, while every industry has encountered unique challenges due to the pandemic, this is perhaps truest in healthcare, where day-to-day risks have only been heightened by the onset of COVID-19 and now the vaccine rollout.

VIOLENCE AND HARASSMENT

For example, this past summer the International Committee of the Red Cross issued a statement regarding increased incidents of violence and harassment taking place against health-care workers, patients and medical infrastructure. This comes on the back of a 2019 study reporting 75% of nearly 25,000 workplace assaults occurred in healthcare settings.

Given these challenges, it’s no surprise that recruiting and training security officers for a role in a healthcare setting necessitates considerable complexity. While guarding in any environment takes a certain skill set and training, guarding in a healthcare environment is highly complicated and layered. Hospitals are emotionally charged environments, creating a landscape that must be navigated effectively by well trained and highly capable security professionals.

The role of a healthcare security officer is also significantly more interactive than in other settings, as they directly engage with patients, families, visitors and staff. Hospital security offi- cers are not only the first impression patients or visitors have of the organization when they enter the facility, but they are also the first to assist the clinical staff in protecting patients from harming themselves, visitors or staff. It is also a security officer’s responsibility to understand and comply with all regulations and to enforce hospital policy and procedure.

As hospitals reach maximum capacity due to the number of COVID-19 patients, risk factors are increased. As a result, hospital security needs to be managed with less intrusive and more specialized measures that minimize stress to patients, visitors and healthcare workers. Security companies must possess a strategic and deep understanding of the healthcare environment to ensure they are hiring the right people and providing the necessary training for success, especially at a time when many healthcare institutions are facing pandemic-related financial stress.

HIRING THE RIGHT PEOPLE

In light of these risks and challenges, recruiting for a healthcare role involves considerations beyond that of a traditional commercial security job. To find talent with the right mix of experience, skills, and temperament necessitates that direct compensation and additional benefits equate to the dangers and difficulties personnel would be expected to handle on a daily basis. A healthcare security officer often provides the first impression to patients or visitors. Screening for professionalism, a sense of responsibility, positive attitude and attention to detail, empathy and strong communications skills is vital.

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, new recruiting challenges have also emerged for healthcare roles. Recruiters must consider a candidate’s willingness to protect others and themselves when it comes to infection protocols and proper PPE usage. Although required immunizations and vaccinations are not new challenges for credentialing healthcare security officers, COVID-19 has brought the new realities of candidate trust, opinions on vaccine safety and legal considerations related to what employers can and cannot require.

Furthermore, these positions now have the added obstacle of considering a candidate’s potential health risk factors. Someone who may have been a perfect fit for the role but suffers from an underlying condition that puts them at greater risk from COVID- 19, may no longer be an appropriate candidate.

TEACHING TENETS

While certain personality traits are inherent, security companies must provide the necessary depth and breadth of training to ensure staff are prepared, safe and successful in their new roles. This means specialized, augmented training specifically tailored to helping staff manage high-risk situations. Instructional content should include pre-assignment training, as well as continual education on critical topics relating to patient and officer safety, compliance and risks unique to the healthcare environment. Core universal subjects include security operations, customer

service methodology and culture, prevention, mitigation, response, recovery and protection techniques, and verbal de-escalation methods.

Industry-specific modules include explanations of the healthcare environment, nuances of differing care and departmental challenges, the patient and employee experience, accreditation standards and regulations specific to the industry, and patient rights.

CALIBRATED AND REFINED TRAINING

Over the last year, healthcare organizations have found themselves responding to new challenges, whether it be patient influx, operational shutdown, or a major workforce protection policy decision. Because of this, security companies must be able to adjust on the fly, consistently updating trainings about new policies and procedures. This, coupled with an increased demand for security staff in healthcare, has led to changes in training delivery methods along with content.

The days of in-person pre-assignment training are insufficient for today’s healthcare environment. Security companies must focus on methods of delivery, concise communications and processes, limitations of scope and client expectations.

The clearest option is virtual training, which allows for consistent delivery across multiple locations. When virtually training staff, content organization is important. Ideally, topics should be presented to emphasize the most critical curriculum first. Once pre-assignment curriculum is completed and officers are stationed within a facility, additional topics can be delivered in an automated manner within a fixed schedule to ensure compliance initiatives identified in accreditation and healthcare survey findings are reinforced. Virtual training also allows for just-in-time modules, which has been especially timely during the pandemic. For example, these can be used to address regulatory enhancements, civil unrest incident response, or the latest CDC COVID-19 recommendations. It is also recommended a library of electronic training programs is maintained to address any issues and allow continual review by employees.

It is also important for security companies to gauge and measure the success of training programs. One way to do this is with automated testing that shows students’ progress and real-time results. By analyzing this information, classes can be modified to emphasize areas in which results are falling short of pre-determined standards. This allows for continuous improvement to training programs, student comprehension and job performance.

While the security industry does not have required national training or licensing standards, a top tier security company will provide significant hours of pre-assignment training rather than regressing to state minimums.

To attract the right candidates to the role, these positions also require a greater investment to match the increased risk and advanced skill set of the preferred applicants with more competitive pay. It is necessary to explore creative approaches to allow the hospital to reinvest savings from synergies found in peripheral services to invest in the most important element of maintaining the safety of the campus - the security officer.

To prepare officers, it is critical security companies identify people with the right base-level characteristics and train them extensively and effectively. When officers receive the proper training, retention, recruitment efforts and officer performance all improve. This is key as healthcare customers can count on a more educated and competent security force to handle delicate and complex situations.

This article originally appeared in the April 2021 issue of Security Today.

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