Houlton Regional Hospital Security Increase

Published: Sep. 6, 2022 at 12:37 PM EDT
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PRESQUE ISLE, Maine (WAGM) -

Patients and visitors at Houlton Regional Hospital may have noticed an increased number of guards on duty. That’s because the hospital recently rolled out its own 24-hour a day security force. Sherry Karabin stopped by the facility to learn more about the reasons for the change.

Shawn Anderson, CEO, “So about a year ago, we started noting a considerable number of increased security incidents in the hospital.”

At the time, the hospital contracted with an outside security vendor that didn’t provide full-time coverage. In an effort to provide more protection to staff and patients, chief executive officer Shawn Anderson says officials decided it was best for the hospital to hire its own officers, who would be on duty 24 hours a day, all 365 days of the year.

Luckily, he didn’t have to go it alone. You see the facility is part of the Maine Rural Health Collaborative...and one of the other members--Cary Medical Center in Caribou already had its own full-time employee-based security force. Cary health officials not only offered guidance, they agreed to share their head of security Mitchell Wheeler.

Mitchell Wheeler, director of security “I was asked if I wouldn’t mind coming down here and assist in putting together a security force for Houlton Regional Hospital.”

Fast-forward to today and the hospital now has more than a half dozen full-time officers, who’ve been on duty since August 29 to help eliminate any problems that arise

“Hospital officials say one of the reasons for the increase in incidents is COVID-19, which not only increased stress among the general public, but also led to a number of requirements such as masks that not everyone is happy about.”

Mitchell Wheeler, “Actually the incidents involving nurse and doctor assaults are going up across the whole nation so and it’s happened where I work up at Cary Medical Center too, but we have plenty of psych patients who come in here that require mental health treatment and we have a lot of drugs, drug activities that come though the doors and sometimes that into an assault of manner and nurses get assaulted, doctors will get assaulted we’re here to hopefully you know quash that from happening.”

While the new security force isn’t armed with weapons, they do have considerable training in how to peacefully resolve incidents that arise.

Mitchell Wheeler “We use what I like to call verbal judo. We speak to the people. We try to de-escalate them. You know there are different levels of anxiety and emotional distress so if you recognize anxiety triggers or what’s triggering them you can get in there before it escalates to that emotional confrontation.”

While they’ve only been on the job a short time, patients and staff members are giving the officers high marks.

Traci Peabody, Chief Nursing Officer, “I work in the emergency room as other places within the hospital as a staff nurse; I’ve managed some areas and seen what it was doing to the staff and the patients when people came in and were aggressive and not having the assistance that we needed. Most recently over the last couple of years, the local law enforcement they’re short-staffed like everyone else and their ability to come and stay with us hasn’t been easy for them either so we needed something of our own to help with that and to relieve that stress on them.”

Mitchell says the hospital does plan to expand to expand the security force by bringing in per diem help to cover for officers who are out sick or on vacation. In Houlton, this is Sherry Karabin reporting for News Source 8.

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