Increasingly, security in hospitals and healthcare facilities are dealing with patients who are mentally ill and/or suicidal. In a webinar, Jim Sawyer, Director of Security for Seattle Children’s Hospital, explained how to identify, support, plan and train for what some experts refer to as an exponential increase in patients who need and require special mental health support.

Security professionals are in the center of this important issue and are relied upon to both mitigate and manage what is becoming a growing concern.

According to statistics, Sawyer said, 1 in 4 Americans suffer from some form of mental illness, and those patients will inevitably enter the healthcare system.

In addition, 40 million US citizens suffer from PTSD, even more patients who will enter the healthcare system.

Therefore, Sawyer said, security professionals face a growing challenge in supporting patients who have a mental health crisis. They not only have to keep the patient safe, but also keep the staff and family safe while documenting and tracking the event(s).

One way to support the patients, Sawyer said, is to have a “patient watch team” that would require house-wide by in, a strong training program, a strong restraint program, 24/7 capability that is also on-call, and has a definitive and approved weapons search policy.

Sawyer also provided security and staff guidelines for supporting a suicidal patient, including: try to know the patient history, sweep your environment, search the patient and have a policy, and watch what you wear. “Attire is important,” Sawyer said. “Don’t wear a necktie that the patient could grab. Make sure your shoes have good traction, for example.”

He noted that verbal signs of mental instability can include slurred speech, nervous laughter, talking to themselves, and paranoid commentary. Non-verbal signs of mental instability can include hitting themselves, staring, refusing eye contact, and excessive sweating.

With regards to PTSD patients, Sawyer stressed that security executives and staff should listen to the patient, respect their personal space (they may need more than the “average” person, isolate their behavior to remove an audience, keep it verbal and don’t over react. Never put yourself in a one-on-one situation with a PTSD patient, Sawyer said, and don’t ever become complacent when you are around them.         

Sawyer concluded the webinar by offering several golden rules, or best security practices when building a security mental health support program. They include:

  • Build a watch team
  • Have 24/7 capability
  • Get administration buy in
  • Staff up and be ahead
  • Physical is the last resort only
  • Do a CPTED assessment: check your stairwells and your roof doors
  • Report all assaults to the police
  • Do annual de-escalation classes
  • Train staff on how to sweep a room

“This problem of caring for mentally ill and PSTD patients is growing and there’s never been a greater need to support this population,” Sawyer said.

To view this webinar on demand, click here