By Gary Sweet, Carson Health safety officer
CARSON CITY — Community policing in Carson City has been a win-win since the very first day.
A collaboration between the city of Carson City, the police department and Carson Health has been a substantial safety and security benefit for patients, hospital staff and the small mid-Michigan community.
As a result of the collaboration, the hospital has met its need for a stronger security presence in a cost-effective manner, law enforcement officers have more on-duty hours to spend serving community needs and health care professionals can focus their attention directly to patients and their families.
The patient care environment was not as peaceful before the collaboration began in June 2012.
Due to a depressed economy, municipal budget reductions had resulted in less than 24/7 law enforcement coverage at the local and county levels. Financial restrictions prevented the hospital from employing full-time professional security. The need for a security service, due to disruptive visitors, was infrequent but very real at unforeseen times. Estimated expenses to add a security service full-time and for after hours were cost-prohibitive. Hospital security needs had developed from threats in the inpatient setting, retail pharmacy operations, visitation issues in a busy inpatient obstetrics service, behavioral health conflicts, drug-seeking activity in the emergency department and outpatient pain management clinic and family dynamics escalating into threats of disruptive behavior.
A new police chief’s proposal
The community was blessed when Carson City hired Bruce Partridge as police chief in July 2011. The hire was described as “hitting a home run” by Montcalm County Undersheriff Mark Bellinger when he addressed the city council on a related matter. Among Partridge’s valuable experiences was providing court security in Kent County.
Partridge was introduced to hospital officials and, as part of his getting to know the community, he learned of infrequent but potentially serious security matters. The hospital was and still is the location where most local activity occurs in the late evening and early morning hours after other businesses have closed.
In the spring of 2012, hospital associates of all levels assembled in a meeting room within the emergency department to speak of recent threats and evaluate options for upgrading security protection. The hospital CEO, physicians, the safety officer, security consultant and Partridge were among those listening to serious concerns of the emergency department staff.
The refusal of a patient’s extended family to abide by visitation limitations and a group of youths lingering in the parking lot outside the Emergency Room, reportedly taking turns walking inside and asking for drugs, had led to widespread frustration. During prior months, safety and security officials had dealt with an increasing number of threats that took valuable time away from patient care routines.
Assurances by administration that all staff members were authorized to contact law enforcement for perceived threats helped alleviate growing fear. But a more long-term solution was needed.
The meeting broke up without a firm resolution. Partridge then asked to meet with the CEO and safety/security officials before they left the building for the evening.
Partridge had a proposal. In exchange for a hospital commitment of reimbursing the city for five law enforcement officer hours per night, the police department would move its headquarters from City Hall, which closes at 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, to the hospital’s emergency department waiting area until 5 a.m.
The agreement called for the hospital to have more hours of direct police presence. The community gained by reducing police void hours, when residents need to rely on response by county or state officers.
The proposal called for police officers to make regular interior and exterior rounds on the hospital campus and still be available to respond to calls made by city residents. Up to that time officers were on duty after City Hall closed, but there was not a convenient way for the public to contact them, short of calling 911.
Partridge subsequently met with all affected groups over the next few weeks: the hospital’s Safety Team, the Leadership Team of over 50 individuals and the Board of Directors; as well as the City Council and the Police Committee, outlining his vision to help the hospital and city.
One manager in the hospital’s Leadership group, the wife of a law enforcement officer in another community, was sitting near Partridge during one such presentation.
“Isn’t this just community policing?” she asked.
Without expression and without hesitation, Partridge responded in half-volume, still with everyone’s attention: “This is Community Policing 101.”
A one-page agreement for a six-month trial was drafted and approved. Discussions leading to extending the agreement after the trial period were brief.
The project started on June 4, 2012, with the understanding that the on-duty officer would be based in the hospital’s emergency department waiting room area on a staggered schedule of five nights per week. Its popularity contributed to successful recruiting of additional officers and subsequently to a full seven days of collaboration.
From the time the proposal was first introduced, there has been little downside. Threats of disruption and violence have been promptly resolved and the frequency appears to have been greatly reduced. Concerns for HIPAA are addressed through police officer training that is similar to what is provided for hospital employees.
A suspected drug-seeker was causing a problem for a young female emergency department physician. Partridge happened to be on duty on one such occasion and knew there was an outstanding warrant for the arrest of the disruptive patient. The individual went to jail and peace was restored.
Davina Davidson, director of Patient Access, is responsible for overseeing the switchboard operators who serve with the emergency department, greeting patients and visitors near the emergency department entrance.
“We have a greater appreciation for the work the officers do to support the community,” Davidson said. “They have a very tough job. I feel more secure going out to my car at night knowing the officers are available to escort. Several patients/visitors have asked us, ‘why is a cop car parked out front?’ We tell them they are here to provide security and safety to you and your family.
Registered nurse Kris Poff often serves as house supervisor on nights and weekends. She has had experience dealing with security threats before the partnership and since the arrangement began.
“The presence of the officers in the hospital has helped on several occasions,” Poff said. “Showing their presence has deferred a few visitors from being asked to leave. Once they see there is an officer present, their behaviors improve greatly. It is very nice to have them around.”
Jason Anderson is an emergency medical technician who serves in a Patient Care Technician role in the emergency department during the evening shift.
“I know officers have been able to write tickets for late night and early morning speeders,” Anderson said. “Without this (collaboration) there would not be any officer on duty. Plus the fact that some arrests have been made, patients’ attitudes have changed when they don’t get everything they think they should (narcotics). It’s a great peace of mind.”
Partridge said he is pleased to report that city officials are more than satisfied with the collaboration with Carson Health.
“Several times during the course of a typical week and more often during the busier seasons, law enforcement officers have been on duty beyond 12 midnight and been able to respond to requests for service not only within the city, but within the surrounding townships and communities as well,” Partridge said. “Law enforcement services in greater Montcalm County have been shrinking. However, as a result of this collaborative agreement (and modifying the compensation plan,) law enforcement services in Carson City have increased 65 percent at no additional cost to the city.”