published Tuesday, March 22nd, 2011

Erlanger committee approves security outsourcing, despite protest


by Emily Bregel
  • photo
    Mark Huth(CQ), COO of Walden Securtity, looks at board member Charlesetta Woodard-Thompson(CQ) as he speaks during a Monday budget and finance committee meeting of the board of trustees of the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Hospital Authority. Staff photo by John Rawlston/Chattanooga Times Free Press - Mar 21, 2011

The indefinite suspension of an Erlanger security officer, who was passing out fliers protesting the hospital’s move to outsource security to a private firm, hasn’t deterred other security staff members from voicing their vehement opposition to the change.

Rodney Patton, supervisor for the hospital’s security force, was suspended on Friday after handing a flier to a nurse, who reported him to hospital officials, said colleague Jerry Lawrence, who has worked security at Erlanger for 16 years.

He and other security officers have picketed outside the hospital every morning for more than a week in protest of the move to outsource the security department to Walden Security, he said.

“They thought if they got rid of Rodney the rest of us would stop boycotting and protesting, but it ain’t working. We’re sticking together as a team,” Lawrence said.

Erlanger spokeswoman Pat Charles said Monday night she would not comment on a personnel issue such as a suspension.

Lawrence said he and a number of other security members met with hospital trustees Monday afternoon to express their opposition to the outsourcing move, in advance of a hospital committee’s vote on a resolution authorizing the change. Some were concerned about losing their jobs and some said security would be compromised under Walden.

Nevertheless, hospital budget committee members voted Monday night to approve the $2.3 million annual contract, which still must be approved by the hospital’s full board of trustees, which meets Thursday. Current Erlanger security officers will be able to apply for employment with Walden.

Chattanooga-based Walden Security, the nation’s 10th largest security firm, won a competitive bid process for Erlanger’s security contract, hospital officials announced this month.

FEBRUARY FINANCIALS
  • February income: Gain of $1 million

  • Year-to-date income: Gain of $1.3 million

  • Last year, year-to-date income: Loss of $2.6 million

Source: Erlanger financial statements

After Monday’s meeting, Walden Chief Operating Officer Mark Huth declined to comment on the contract until receives full board approval.

In the face of difficulty recruiting and retaining qualified security staff, Erlanger initiated a temporary professional services agreement with Walden for the past year. In that time, Walden security officers have worked alongside Erlanger’s in-house security force in a hybrid model, hospital leaders said.

Some of Erlanger’s security officers are “commissioned,” meaning they are armed and can make arrests, but state oversight of the commissioning process has become more stringent and more cumbersome recently, making the hospital’s in-house security force almost impossible to maintain, said Charlesetta Woodard-Thompson, chief operating officer.

Private security officers like Walden’s don’t have arrest capabilities and aren’t armed, but they will be backed-up by part-time Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office deputies, who will be placed in high-risk areas such as emergency rooms, where violence is most likely to occur, said Sheriff Jim Hammond.

The pay for those security officers is included in the $2.3 million total annual cost of the resolution, Woodard-Thompson said.

Connie Morin, regional sales manager of a Knoxville-based a security firm that bid on the contract, said she believed the bid process was meant only to “pacify” security firms who wanted a chance to bid for the contract that seemed already destined to go to Walden.

“They were just doing it to shut everybody up because everybody was raising cane” about Walden’s temporary contract, she said. “We thought they were just pacifying everybody. When Walden was awarded the contract, it wasn’t a surprise.”

Woodard-Thompson said the competitive bidding process was fair to all the security firms who applied.

“We made sure we did not divulge anything to Walden that we did not give to anyone else,” she said.

Staff reporter Kate Harrison contributed to this story.

Contact staff writer Emily Bregel at ebregel@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6467.

about Emily Bregel...

Health care reporter Emily Bregel has worked at the Chattanooga Times Free Press since July 2006. She previously covered banking and wrote for the Life section. Emily, a native of Baltimore, Md., earned a bachelor’s degree in American Studies from Columbia University. She received a first-place award for feature writing from the East Tennessee Society of Professional Journalists’ Golden Press Card Contest for a 2009 article about a boy with a congenital heart defect. She ...

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bpqd said...

The entire hospital appears to be one large stash of synthetic heroin (OxyContin), morphine and similar drugs. What good can it do to lower law enforcement presence in the area?

This makes no sense beyond giving money to whomever is running Walden Security.

Can the hospital not receive County Deputy support for the ER if it cannot maintain its own arresting force?

With the high concentration of drugs in the area, it ought to be obvious that maintaining protective services on site is a basic risk control. The first drug crime which occurs on the premises will be enough to negate those pretty cost-saving projections.

The primary result of paying this money? Maintaining control over controlled substances in a responsible fashion. Drugs, particularly strong drugs, are an essential part of running an effective hospital. Leaving them nearly unguarded, with no immediate means to respond in the event of a crime, is below irresponsible.

I recommend you cut the salary of the person who proposed this poorly thought out measure as a means of paying the guards who are protecting the drug cache.

This is an exceptionally poor decision that speaks to the irresponsible nature of over-aggressive pursuit of profit. We cannot tolerate elementary failures in logic that promote the commission of felonies, as this decision is sure to do.

The mere mention that the staff at the hospital would be so stupid as to lower the guard force is reason enough to increase it immediately. We should probably send over half a dozen deputies to stay for a month just on the grounds that these people are obviously incapable of assessing and controlling obvious environmental risks.

Fire one six-figure executive who decided this idiocy and use it to pay the existing guards. What stupidity.

March 22, 2011 at 6:21 a.m.
pr356 said...

The move away from in-house security is NOT a cost-cutting measure... it is just the opposite. The current budget for Erlanger security is roughly $700,000. Walden will be paid $2.4 MILLION DOLLARS. This is going to cost Erlanger $1.7 MILLION DOLLARS more than they currently spend. Does this make sense? If you are an Erlanger executive it does, but if you are a county tax-payer, HOW CAN IT?

The Sheriff's deputies who will staff the ER 24 hours a day will cost Erlanger an additional $262,000 per year. This move by the Erlanger execs and board will cost the tax-payers an additional 2 MILLION dollars. And for this extra money, there won't be any police presence in this huge hospital except for the emergency room.

March 24, 2011 at 3:51 p.m.
RM2012 said...

Walden Security is quite dishonest and incompetent in some cases. At Erlanger, they have some officers (Holloway, Koenen, and a woman driving an "806" vehicle) who have harassed and spoken dishonestly. A legal response to this matter is in place, as is a legal response to the poor response by their superior. Erlanger itself has some guilty employees also, as in a nurse named Jenkins, a cashier named Ezell, and two ER desk workers who failed to do their jobs accurately.

February 18, 2013 at 7:52 p.m.
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