Eric Smith: The Emotional Value of Security
A Security 500 Thought Leader Profile
Denver Health is an integrated healthcare organization in Colorado, serving approximately 150,000 individuals in the Denver area. Eric Smith, Director of Security Services, has been working to reframe the enterprise’s security department as a business-enabling function instead of a quick fix.
Previously, he says, the security solution has been to assign a contract security officer to a new location after an incident, but the attitude is shifting to a broader look at how the security department can be a partner with other departments, whether it’s with engineering on access control systems, with construction on new building designs or remodels, or with the emergency department to listen to their needs and address them thoroughly.
“We want to make the hospital a safe place to come for anybody who needs service here,” says Smith. “And that’s an important business function as well, because we want to attract more patients to support our mission.”
Smith, who has a degree in international business and marketing, spent 11 years as a police officer and 10 years in healthcare security with a contract service, eventually joining Denver Health as their security leader in December 2016, where he leads a team of 80 full-time contract security officers.
The risks he faces shift almost daily – from mental health patients desperately trying to evade doctors to anti-smoking initiatives to parking lot safety – but one major, sector-wide challenge stays consistent: workplace violence.
“As an organization, we’ve been trying to create a workplace violence checklist that helps all staff members understand what steps they can take, how they’ll be supported if they’re the victim of violence,” Smith says. “We do try to encourage staff to file police reports; if they do that, they are supported by the hospital. We really try to create an environment where everyone understands that it’s not okay to be assaulted at work. No one should go to work and have to come home with a bloody nose or a black eye or other more severe injuries. We’re working to get that message out and let our staff know it’s not okay or part of their jobs to be a victim of violence.”
In addition to communicating the resources and support available to employees, training is provided so employees can recognize the signs of escalating violent behavior and how to respond.
Smith uses “Gemba walks” (a Six Sigma technique where Smith tours the property and talks with staff and security officers to learn their challenges and concerns), detailed metrics and benchmarking between facilities, and customer service surveys and feedback to find gaps in security coverage and how to fill them.
“To me, the value of security is almost an emotional value, and fundamentally there are two questions I really want to get to the bottom of to improve the overall perception of security. One is: Do staff feel safe at work? If we can get the answer to that question, that really shows how people feel about the security program and how well it’s doing at protecting them while they’re at work, when they’re coming to and from their cars and so forth. The other is: How involved are officers in their jobs? Are they just going through the motions or are they really concerned about maintaining that level of safety and a secure environment? In my experience, you can do surveys, but it’s a little more of a gut feeling – going out and talking to officers at their posts and get their feedback about how they feel about their jobs, how they feel they’re perceived by other people in the hospital, their level of involvement, and how attuned they are with what they’re doing.”
Despite working with a contract security officer service, Smith has noticed that the officers feel like they are part of the Denver Health staff: they know the nurses, doctors and staff, and many have been with the organization for years, not just floating through for one shift or two. “If any kind of critical incident comes up, they are racing to the scene without hesitation to protect staff,” he says, adding that he works hard to meet and listen to the officers to give them the resources to do their jobs better.
In his free time, Smith enjoys writing, reading and camping or hiking in the mountains, where he suffers some good-natured ribbing from his family about always locking the trailer before walking away, even in those “out-of-the-way, forgotten places.”
Annual Revenue: $2.75 billion
Security Budget: $4 million
• Workplace Violence
• Security Technology