January 3

Skowhegan police, hospital reach security agreement

Redington-Fairview General Hospital hires additional security personnel to relieve Skowhegan police, department to receive reimbursements for emergency attendance.

By Doug Harlow dharlow@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

SKOWHEGAN — The Police Department has reached an agreement with administrators at Redington-Fairview General Hospital to increase the hospital’s role in security matters and to reimburse the town department when it responds to emergencies at the hospital.

In the past, Police Chief Ted Blais said, police officers were called to help control unruly patients, usually in the emergency room. Now police are sent only in emergency situations or for routine crime and accident investigations, with increased hospital staff picking up the rest.

“The hospital is taking a long hard look at how often the police are called and what they’re called for and what they’re doing,” Blais said. “I’m impressed. Now they have more security in mind and how the whole emergency area runs.”

Blais said with recent emergency room leadership changes, hospital personnel no longer immediately call the police when there is a disruptive patient.

Hospital public relations director Carol Steward said when Blais asked for help this summer, the hospital responded.

“We agreed with him that we really needed to look at how we were requesting police,” Steward said. “We have great respect for them. They come when we need them and we don’t want to abuse that privilege, so by adding our own security hours and making sure our requests are appropriate for their time, I feel like we’ve been very efficient since September in utilizing police services here in town.”

Blais said under the new agreement, the hospital pays for details in special situations, such as when a patient is combative and threatens hospital staff and a police officer is needed.

“There are a lot of people being brought in there for mental health issues,” Blais said.

Steward said since September the hospital has reimbursed the Skowhegan Police Department for about 70-80 hours of time at the hospital, primarily in the emergency room, at an hourly rate of $28.50. Police were not reimbursed before the adoption of the mutual agreement, she said.

Steward said the hospital only had partial security coverage during the week, with two security officers during the day Monday through Friday and one person on weekends and nights. Since September, the hospital added round-the-clock coverage by hiring two full-time security officers, bringing the total from nine to 11 employees, as well as a handful of part-time ones. Hospital security staff now log 234 hours per week, she said.

The hospital also added the position of security and communications manager, Steward said.

“Before, we would only cover Thursday through Sunday night. We would only cover what we thought were our weekend busy times,” Steward said. “We did some studies and it turns out our busy times were throughout the week — there were not particular days that were worse than others. That’s why we made the adjustments.”

Blais said people can become agitated after sitting in the emergency room for an extended period of time and hospital officials now are making sure patients are seen quicker so they don’t become upset and cause a problem for which police are needed.

“The hospital has made big changes on how they process folks going through the emergency room,” he said. “That has caused folks to be not as frustrated, which causes us not to be there as often. In the past it’s been a real issue, but I think we’re making really good ground here and less of a cost on the town.”

Mike Smith, director of communications at the Somerset County Regional Communications Center, which takes all calls for service, said it is impossible to isolate how many calls are specific to the hospital over the course of the year.

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