Hospital Security Impacts Patient Satisfaction
Security concerns for healthcare institutions are unlike those of any other market segment. Hospitals face increasing challenges to maintaining peace and security as emergency rooms are overcrowded, language barriers create tensions, and domestic violence is on the rise. Keeping patients, staff, and physicians safe is a growing concern for many administrators, but those who focus their security program entirely on a safety-only mission are at risk of compromising customer service and damaging their facility’s public image.
Among the most vulnerable locations in a hospital is the emergency room, where security officers are often the first point of contact at a facility. At any given moment, high emotions by patients and visitors can erupt into violence or create a hostile situation, threatening patient and employee safety as well as the reputation of the hospital. In July 2009, the Emergency Nurses Association released compelling findings that more than half of emergency nurses polled had been physically assaulted on the job and 25% had been victims of violence more than 20 times in the past 3 years (Gacki-Smith et al., 2009). Those situations resonate with staff and physicians, resulting in requests for tighter security.
A group of hospital administrators told pollsters in a recent survey by AlliedBarton Security Services that they feel their facilities are more vulnerable today than in past years. Still, they worry about their security force projecting an image of intimidation instead of serving as good ambassadors or “cultural representatives” of the organization.
The solution they seek is one where a security officer strikes a delicate balance between reflecting the hospital’s image as an organization with a “servant’s heart” and being expertly skilled in securing the hospital in the event of unanticipated disruption, violent act, or other emergency.
Many of the hospital administrators interviewed agreed that one of the most important characteristics of a good security program is that the security officers feel responsible for customer service and patient satisfaction. Those administrators expressed enormous value in having security staff trained in their hospital’s particular culture and well versed in federal privacy regulations, in addition to being able to stand-down a perpetrator or curtail a domestic conflict. According to many of the administrators interviewed, incorporating a strategy where security personnel serve as ambassadors of a hospital while ensuring the safety of patients, physicians, nurses, and staff is essential to ensuring good patient satisfaction and customer service.
Whether a security force is internal or contracted, training for security officers should include a hospital-wide orientation, mission and culture training, communications coaching, and a thorough understanding of the organization’s vision and values so they will appreciate and adhere to the hospital’s philosophy. Culture training helps security officers feel they are an integral part of the organization and better understand their very visible role with the hospital and ancillary facilities.
At a California-based hospital system with three campuses, management recently decided to augment the role of its security force in order to give visitors a higher comfort level and more individualized attention. The director of operations wanted a concierge-type system with well-trained officers who were equally focused on customer service and security. The hospital system implemented a customer-focused program that included specific customer service and aggressive behavior management training to develop more approachable officers who could serve in a broader capacity.
The objective was to create an image of its security officers as more than just protectors but also as trusted individuals who ultimately serve as ambassadors for the hospital. In addition to their normal duties, the security officers were trained to assist visitors with directions, locate wheelchairs, distribute parking vouchers, etc. When people in the facility’s emergency department experience a long wait, the officers comfort patients by bringing them a blanket or something to drink or they are instructed to engage in casual conversation to help pass the time. These officers are cross-trained to be an extension of the hospitals’ services. In addition to the hospital being inundated with positive patient comments, they have also discovered that these small gestures helped mitigate the escalation of potentially tense situations.
Providing protection is always the number-one priority for security officers. Administrators should insist on having skilled personnel who can calmly and quickly react to a threat and who know how to de-escalate an incident before it fully erupts. But the hospital that requires its security personnel to be more than protectors will find that a helpful and friendly “enforcer” will positively impact customer satisfaction, enhance patient loyalty and improve staff retention.
Ken Bukowski is vice president of healthcare for AlliedBarton Security Services. Bukowski and the AlliedBarton team design customized security programs for hospitals across the country and work with healthcare systems to implement standardized programs that help support their corporate initiatives. Bukowski has more than two decades of experience in the healthcare industry and is an expert in the cultural sensitivities, training needs, and security challenges specific to a hospital setting. He has extensive knowledge of the regulatory requirements of The Joint Commission, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.