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Hospital security under the microscope

In early February two members of the security staff from St. Michael’s hospital in Toronto allegedly roughed up an aboriginal man and woman who had entered the hospital together to visit a relative.


March 11, 2009
By Jennifer Brown


Topics

Cliff Hussin and Donna Oakes say they were treated badly and Hussin
beaten as the guards escorted the couple out of the hospital on Feb. 4.
Hussin was allegedly kicked unconscious and dragged outside to the
street. He was treated at another hospital for three broken ribs and a
punctured lung. The two admitted later that they were loud and drunk.

Following an internal investigation, a hospital security supervisor and
an officer were fired and the hospital CEO issued an apology to Hussin
and Oakes in a joint statement from Aboriginal Legal Services on behalf
of Hussin and Oakes, and St. Michael’s Hospital.

No charges were laid against the guards at the time, but the police
investigation was still ongoing as of press time — more than a month
after the incident. It’s uncertain why police did not become involved
immediately after the incident to lay charges.

The guards who were fired have not spoken to the press, nor has the
senior manager of St. Mike’s security and safety, Paul Greenwood who is
said to be under a gag order. The hospital’s public relations
department declined comment to Canadian Security saying they did not
wish to comment while the police investigation was ongoing.

Keeping the incident under tight wraps from the beginning was hospital
CEO Jeff Lozon who did not grant an on-camera interview to the press
when the apology letter was issued. Instead, the press was shoed away
from the meeting in which the hospital met with Hussin and Oakes to
issue the apology. In the statement, Lozon refers to the incident as
“alleged.”

This all happened just as our January/February issue was going to
press, in which we looked at the challenges facing some of Ontario’s
largest hospitals and how eight hospitals, including St. Mike’s, were
collectively providing use of force training through one trainer.

Since the two officers were let go, the hospital has brought in an
external security company to assess and review the hospital security
department’s use of force policy and procedures. In addition, the
hospital “will provide additional diversity training for its security
officers and invite its inner city community partners to play a role in
the training and orientation of its security staff.”

That suggests that in 2009 diversity training hasn’t been a core part
of the education for security officers at a major hospitals in one of
the most diverse neighbourhoods in the country. I find it hard to
believe it’s something the hospital’s security department would not do as part of regular staff training.

Diversity is referenced in the Canadian General Standards Board (CGSB)
recently revised standard and in Ontario’s Private Security and
Investigative Services Act (PSISA) code of conduct regulation, and the
PSISA suggested training curricula. 
 Experts tell me that in practice,
some professional security departments and special constable agencies
in areas such as universities have also been providing diversity
training. Others make reference to the human rights codes in their
training without a dedicated module to diversity.


A number of corporate security manuals also make references to dealing
with people with Alzheimer’s, Tourette’s syndrome, etc. depending on the
operating environment.

So how could diversity training be missed at Toronto’s largest downtown
hospital? Again, it seems to me an unlikely thing to ignore.

What has been described as taking place that night at the hospital is
not reflective of the kind of department Paul Greenwood told me he’s
trying to run when we met in January as part of a health-care security
focus group.

Greenwood said that as part of his department’s mission and values he
works hard to balance the need to provide a secure environment located
on Toronto’s busy Queen St. East neighbourhood with a clientele that
can include drug addicts, the homeless and other marginalized people
seeking help at the hospital. Perhaps there are questions about
adequate funding for training and support from the executive level at
the hospital.

In a story published on cbc.ca reader comments were, unfortunately, a
damning judgment of the security officers. Without knowing all the
facts, it’s difficult to know what really happened. Dealing with the
public when they are at their worst is what security people do. They
endure abusive behaviour from the public on a daily basis —
unfortunately it’s part of the job.

Training and lessons in diversity is just the first piece of the
puzzle. Reinforcing it daily and having support from the hospital
hierarchy is also a big part of the solution. Perhaps it what was
lacking before at St. Mike’s will be part of the plan after the review.

Paul Greenwood and his staff are currently under a microscope. No one
wants to have an incident like this happen on his or her watch. I’m
willing to bet that Greenwood is being peppered with questions from his
peers as this incident continues to unfold — everyone wants to know how
to avoid something like this from happening in their organization.
After the very public flogging of St. Mike’s security department in the
mainstream press, let’s hope there is an equally public disclosure of
the findings of the independent review so that all security departments
can learn from the incident.