Building a security program: Successful staffing

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By Brine Hamilton

Years ago while working as a frontline security guard in a busy Emergency Department I was approached by a middle-aged man. He was seeking assistance to get his mother from his car inside to receive treatment. I promptly retrieved a wheelchair and assisted the gentlemen and his family to bring their mother inside. He was very thankful, since I had left my post I documented the patient’s name. This was on a Friday night, the first of my three shifts for that weekend. Later that weekend I was completing a morgue duty. When completing the paperwork I was stunned to realize that I was receiving the remains of the same patient. Later that weekend I also released the same person to the funeral director. The first interaction with a representative of the hospital was with me, the security professional. In a unique experience this individual literally had their first interaction and also a final send off from the hospital with me.

Frequently the uniformed security professional is often the first and/or last person an individual will interact with when visiting a healthcare facility. Being one of the most visible employees in a facility makes having quality security staff important to the overall patient experience. Aside from creating a positive impression of the organization, healthcare security staff are required to; respond to violent incidents, ensure a safe environment, have a high level of knowledge of the facility and be an effective communicator among other things. In order to hire the right individuals to staff your security program there are many factors to consider.

Cost of a bad hire

Direct costs

The financial implications of a bad personnel decision are significant. Depending on the source referenced it is estimated that the cost of a bad hire is approximately 2-3 times their salary. These costs are attributed to absenteeism, training, equipment, recruitment, the strain on management resources and finally severance. The amounts will vary based on actual wages paid, hours required for training and specialized training as well potential litigation issues. In the instance of absenteeism the impact varies based on whether or not organizational needs require a given shift to be filled. When this is the case often another is required to stay at a premium or overtime rate while coverage is sought. There is also in most cases a cost associated with the individual’s sick time benefits as well.

Indirect costs

Aside from the financial impact there are many intangible factors negatively impacting a department as the result of a bad hire. Some of these factors are more damaging in the long term than the financial ramifications because for the most part they affect other personnel. Some negative aspects of a bad hire felt by other team members include lowered morale and engagement, quality of the program, compromised safety and potential of damage to the organization’s reputation.

Common challenges

When bad hires are many it is typically for one of the following reasons;

  • Urgency to hire (proper vetting does not occur)
  • Limited number of suitable candidates (settling)
  • Resource restraints (time required to vet candidates)
  • Lack of planning

It is beneficial to be prepared ahead of time, staying abreast of the state of current staff is important. Having knowledge of immediate plans of team members to leave for educational or career advancement opportunities will help a program leader prepare for departures adequately. One of the most effective methods to prepare for such changes is to have a pool of casual employees who are willing and able to transition into any permanent roles that will become open. Having site trained staff working regularly and becoming acclimated to the environment will assist in maintaining the quality of service and avoid large gaps in staffing. This being said it is also important to ensure that adequate casual staffing levels are maintained to achieve these objectives.

Required skills

As mentioned earlier the healthcare security professional must be comfortable with and adept to communicate with anyone who may present at the facility. In the healthcare field security guards must have compassion and the ability to exercise sound judgement. Policies are black and white, however many security related incidents that occur in a healthcare facility tend to fall within a grey area. Due to the nature of the healthcare environment the security professional must also be comfortable with the sight of blood, attending the morgue, walking and standing for long periods of time, able to adapt to weather conditions as well ever changing situations that occur. Whether a security program is staffed through a proprietary contracted model it is important to ensure staff receive suitable healthcare training. The International Association for Healthcare Security and Safety offer multiple levels of training for healthcare security personnel as an example.

Successful staffing

There are three important factors to consider when staffing a security program;

  • Recruitment
  • Hiring
  • Training and Onboarding

Recruitment

Depending on the staffing model being used at your facility it is important to engage the Human Resources department. In a proprietary program it is important to make sure recruiters know exactly what is required for the position. Most HR departments use software based programs to track and vet applicants for improved efficiency. Connect with your recruiters to be certain that the vetting tools are not eliminating good candidates. In a contracted model it is a must to communicate exactly what the expectations are for candidates in your program.

Hiring

Having a structured interview process in which prepared and planned questions are asked streamlines the process. This will ensure candidates are asked the same or at least similar questions, this is important when you are implementing a scorecard (which I highly recommend). It is generally good practice to have a second person conducting interviews, especially when there are a lot of interviews scheduled. This is helpful when reviewing applicants as two people will generally recall different aspects of the recruitment process. This will also make the process a more objective one.

Training and Onboarding

Hiring good candidates is only the beginning of the process, sufficient training and onboarding must take place. Without proper training and onboarding a good hire is not properly mobilized to be successful in your organization. This can result in quick turnover or poor performance. It is important to have a structured training process. At the conclusion of training an employee should feel comfortable assuming their new role with limited assistance and supervision. Another important element is the onboarding of new staff. A structured onboarding process should ideally ensure;

  • Employees are trained to meet the requirements of the job
  • Employees have access to necessary resources
  • Employees have a good idea of what to expect
  • Employees have a means of comfortably asking the “dumb” questions

Following these steps will help you successfully staff your security program. Staffing is an important element of a security program as your frontline staff are a direct reflection of your organization. As the most recognizable staff in a healthcare facility it is important to have the right people in place to represent both the security program and the organization.

Brine Hamilton CHPA, is Coordinator, Security Operations at Trillium Health Partners and Chairperson, Ontario Chapter, International Association for Healthcare Security & Safety.