Erlanger committee approves security outsourcing, despite protest

Erlanger committee approves security outsourcing, despite protest

March 22nd, 2011 by Emily Bregel in News

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.