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HealthEast Hospital Security Staffing Called Safety Issue

HealthEast security officer Kyle McGinn and his co-workers want the hospital chain to boost security staffing. Credit: AFSCME Council 5.
HealthEast security officer Kyle McGinn and his co-workers want the hospital chain to boost security staffing. Credit: AFSCME Council 5.
August 28, 2015

ST. PAUL, Minn. - Security officers at the HealthEast hospital chain say short staffing levels are putting everyone there at risk.

Kyle McGinn, who works at Bethesda Hospital in St Paul, said there have been more than 30 violent assaults at that HealthEast facility in the last year - many from patients with traumatic brain injuries and other cognitive disabilities. McGinn said the security staff is typically an officer or two short on every shift at a HealthEast location - a quarter or a third down from where he said staffing should be.

"We're putting not only security officers in danger but other staff members, patients, families - by having slower response time, and also not having enough bodies to manage this situation," he said.

Last fall, a patient at St. John's Hospital took a metal bar from his bed and used it to attack the nurses on the ward, badly injuring two. Even though the attack was clearly caught on video that still can be seen on the Internet, McGinn said, the security staff was too short-handed to deal with it.

"We only had two officers on at that time," he said. "That patient was able to escape out of the hospital and make it almost all the way off the property before police finally caught up with him."

If security officers are short-staffed and there is more than one incident at a time, McGinn said, they have to choose which is more important. He said that can mean a nurse facing a violent individual for 15 minutes without help from an officer. By comparison, he said, if there are enough officers with nonlethal equipment, they can much more safely de-escalate a bad situation - which is best for all involved.

"The safest way to restrain a patient who is confused or violent is to have the numbers there," he said. "You're actually helping that patient."

The hospital chain defended its staffing levels, saying any officer's concerns are best dealt with on an individual basis.

McGinn says the officers want to organize as part of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and negotiate the issue. Management is refusing to recognize the union.

More information is online at facebook.com/safestaffingmn.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - MN