Erlanger Should Not Outsource Its Security Department - And Response

Monday, January 03, 2011

In an article to the Chattanoogan.com, Mayor Ron Littlefield spoke very responsibly when he stated that the public expects government to control cost and be fiscally responsible. As many of you may have read in your local newspaper, Erlanger Health Systems is going to outsource its campus police department.

For most people the question would be why? You see, this all began after a very public tasing incident with mounting media pressure that Erlanger was unable to handle. As a private citizen and taxpayer it concerns me that the individuals that we have entrusted to be responsible with the taxpayers' dollars has chosen to squander and use the taxpayer money for their specific purpose and that is not to control cost which does not appear to be at the top of Erlanger’s list.

For those of you who may not be aware, after this very public tasing incident Erlanger officials entered into a temporary contract with Walden Security at a cost of $10,000 a month while refusing to train and upgrade its own police force. It’s ironic that we choose to train our doctors, nurses and technicians but not our police officers. In February of 2010 and prior to the tasing incident, Erlanger hired an outside security consultant at a cost of $25,000 to assess the daily operations of the security department. Not only did the consultant recommend that Erlanger avoid outsourcing to private security, but he also recommended that Erlanger enlarge its current police force. But Erlanger officials choose not to follow the recommendations of the hired consultant after squandering $25,000 of taxpayer money. How is this fiscal responsibility and accountability?

At a time when a majority of cities and businesses are increasing security, Erlanger has chosen to provide less to their patients, visitors and employees despite the argument that employees feel unsafe. As a taxpayer, we should look deeply into the so-called public transactions of this merger between Erlanger and private security. Less than a month ago Erlanger invited several private security companies to submit bids to secure a contract as security management for Erlanger. However, during this process Erlanger officials failed to advise the public that among the companies applying for this position, Walden Security did not submit the lowest bid, although they remain the front runner to secure the management contract.

As a taxpayer, we should look really hard into the inner working of this relationship between Walden Security and Erlanger. According to Walden Security personnel on-site, they did not have an armed licensed program until they acquired the temporary contract with Erlanger. It appears that no matter how hard people try to bury the “Good ole Boy Network” it seems to never die. So, what does this mean, it means that no matter who secures the contract, Erlanger and the taxpayer will pay an enormous price tag for an unnecessary change.

First, the taxpayer should be aware that private security companies and their employees have no law enforcement authority or viable mean of protecting them in a real emergency. Second, the taxpayer should know that Erlanger Hospital Police each year respond to over 20,000 calls for service ranging from robbery to domestic assault and auto theft. Crimes that can only be handled by certified law enforcement officers.

Now this burden of responding to calls at Erlanger will be placed on the shoulder of the Chattanooga Police Department. Since private security officers cannot arrest individuals for violating the law, Erlanger will charge the taxpayers an additional cost of not less than $25 an hour to hire off-duty police officers to protect the Emergency Department. The question then becomes how long will the taxpayers have to assume this, weekly, monthly, and yearly cost. Let’s just ask Erlanger where is the fiscal accountability and responsibility in outsourcing its current police force.

Senior management at Erlanger has been quoted as saying “The deal to outsource will cost the taxpayers more” however they could not find money to train their own police officers.

So if I understand this correctly, Erlanger Health System is a government entity and funded by the taxpayers, local, state, and federal government who entrust the administrators at Erlanger to be accountable for their actions and to act responsibly with the taxpayers money. However, if we follow the trail of blunders and mishaps, we will find that the history of indiscretions at Erlanger remains the same today as they did yesterday. Just to mention a few, the Forbes Magazine incident, and then there was the Chattanooga Times Free Press reporting on differential salaries treatment. Just over a year ago January 7, 2009 to be exact, Erlanger reported to the Chattanoogan.com and the citizens of Chattanooga that it would freeze hiring, renegotiate contracts with supplier and vendors as well as cut labor cost through attrition. Erlanger further issued a “State of Healthcare” statement saying “that the economic downturn has affected all industries nationwide including healthcare. Warning that rising unemployment, cutbacks in state and federal funding, and economic uncertainties have resulted in declining admissions and increased the rates of uninsured and bad debt, and that hospitals across the country are struggling."

However at this time it does not appear that outsourcing the police is something that is affecting Erlanger’s ability to be responsible or accountable, in fact this sounds like a deal struck on the1 8th hole of the back 9, and sealed with a hand shake and nod of the head. If we look back, a 1995 Federal investigation at Erlanger proved that things aren’t always as they seem while Erlanger receives over $200 million of its annual income through federal government resources. Its rich history of training doctors, nurses, and technicians, has proven beneficial while neglecting to train its police force which can be felt on all levels of senior management. Just as doctors receive the highly skilled training necessary to perform surgeries or administer the right dosage of medicine, police officers must also receive the training necessary to apprehend dangerous criminals.

According to the consultant hired by Erlanger, in his experience most hospital facilities that he is familiar with have regretted the change from an in-house-police department and have had a less than positive outcome from the change to private security. It should be noted that the consultant hired by Erlanger is highly qualified to make such an assessment as he has appeared on such shows as Americas Most Wanted, he consulted for FBI, and National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

While Erlanger employs a majority female workforce, “a recent study by the Emergency Nurses Association revealed that eighty-two percent of nurses surveyed stated that they had been assaulted during their careers.” Survey data further suggest that nurses are the most frequent targets of assault with 51% of homicides to have occurred inside Emergency Departments. Why should you be aware this information? For one Erlanger Health Systems main campus is only six miles from several high crime areas. This past summer Erlanger Hospital Police officers on more than one occasion held back suspected gang members from entering the hospital, forcing the hospital to go into partial lock-down.

To say the least, crime at Erlanger continues to be a daily factor. Reports taken by Erlanger Hospital Police officers suggest that within the last month, campus police has responded to calls of two separate robberies from person, two-reported auto thefts, a reported un-authorized male going armed inside the facility. All of this comes at a time when Erlanger is outsourcing its police force. How safe will you feel and where is the fiscal responsibility and accountability.

Rodney J. Patton

* * *

I worked for a company over 2 years ago that used Walden Security officers and the reason was they were the only ones in town that offered armed guards. That might be the reason why Walden won the contract, armed guards. While I don't discount the majority of your article I believe you have some personal feelings (i.e. job loss or family/friend).

Chris Sanders
Hixson


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