published Sunday, August 14th, 2011

For efficient hospital security

The use of tax dollars by any organization makes careful oversight of its financial decisions extremely important. Taxpayers have a right to expect that their money will be used as efficiently as possible.

Erlanger Health System gets tax dollars from Hamilton County, including $1.5 million this year, and questions have arisen about Erlanger's decision to outsource its security. Walden Security got a contract at $2.3 million per year. That is nearly $1 million more than Erlanger spent on security with its own Police Department in 2009-10.

If the new services were going to be superior to the security formerly provided, the additional cost might be justified. But it is not clear that that's so. The previous police officers received a glowing review in a 2010 study paid for by Erlanger. They were called "knowledgeable, experienced and dedicated," despite limited funding and manpower.

In addition, the new security workers do not have any more right to conduct arrests than private citizens would have. In contrast, the former Erlanger police officers had the arrest authority exercised by other members of law enforcement. (Some off-duty Hamilton County Sheriff's Office deputies have been hired by Walden so that a level of arrest authority will be maintained.)

One stated justification for the change was that the Chattanooga City Council would no longer commission Erlanger's own officers. But in 2009, the council gave 25 Erlanger officers commissions valid for 40 years, and City Attorney Mike McMahan told the Times Free Press there was "never a problem" with officer commissions.

Walden's winning bid was higher than most of the other bids submitted, though one of the lower bids was by a company that did not have the same certification Walden had. Erlanger says the bid Walden offered was "the lowest & best."

There are often "intangible" factors that go into selecting a bid. But with Erlanger getting tax dollars, it is fair to ask that the "tangible" factors for going with a more expensive bid be laid out more clearly than has thus far been the case.

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