Yampa Valley Medical Center security guard Trevor Ewald takes a call from hospital staff while patrolling the halls Wednesday. With violence in hospitals and other health care settings increasing nationwide, Yampa Valley Medical Center is authorizing its security officers to carry Tasers.

Photo by Matt Stensland

Yampa Valley Medical Center security guard Trevor Ewald takes a call from hospital staff while patrolling the halls Wednesday. With violence in hospitals and other health care settings increasing nationwide, Yampa Valley Medical Center is authorizing its security officers to carry Tasers.

Steamboat hospital guards to soon get Tasers

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— Security officers at Yampa Valley Medical Center soon will carry Tasers.

But hospital CEO Karl Gills said he hopes the officers, contracted through Denver-based Healthcare Security Services, never have to use them.

“They are another tool officers will have as a deterrent,” he said. “We’re looking for a deterrent factor to be more useful than the Tasers themselves.”

Gills said no specific incident led him to seek out the training for his officers to use Tasers, which took place this week at the hospital. He said it’s just another way YVMC’s security has evolved during his 10 years at the helm.

The hospital’s priority is the safety of patients and staff, Gills said.

But he acknowledged that the hospital has seen an increase in violent behavior over the years, from uncooperative patients in the emergency room to issues with family members in in­patient waiting areas.

“It’s not just happening here,” Gills said. “It’s something that’s becoming more prevalent in all hospitals.”

Last February, a doctor who was a patient at Sky Ridge Medical Center in Lone Tree stabbed an intensive-care nurse in the upper arm after asking her to his room for medication.

After the incident, the hospital enlisted Healthcare Security Services, with which it also contracts, to complete a security audit, Sky Ridge spokeswoman Linda Watson said. She said the audit and employee feedback led to new security measures, including Tasers for officers.

“Our priority certainly at Sky Ridge, our No. 1 priority, is safety,” Watson said. “We’re always looking for new ways to ensure we’re keeping our patients safe and our employees safe. It’s not something that’s static. Environments change all the time. You have to be vigilant and look for ways to enhance what you’re doing. It’s an ongoing process.”

Healthcare Security Services instructor Dave Mongeau, who was in Steamboat this week to train YVMC’s security officers, said Tasers are becoming more common at hospitals statewide.

“It certainly is in health care,” he said. “We have 10 hospitals in the Denver metro area currently using the device.”

In addition to using Tasers, Gills said YVMC added two full-time officers, bringing the hospital’s total to eight, seven full time and one part time, to enhance security.

Mongeau said the officers participated in a daylong training. It included a presentation, discussions about when to use a Taser, and instruction in loading and unloading cartridges and firing, which they did into a cardboard cutout of a torso. The training was followed by a written test.

He said the most important aspect of the training was imparting to the officers the necessity of following Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services guidelines that require use of a Taser only if someone commits a crime and remains a serious threat. He said security officers who didn’t follow those guidelines would lose the ability to use the Taser.

Dr. Jeanne Fitzsimmons, an emergency physician at YVMC for the past 10 years, said in general the hospital is safe, but there have been instances when the staff has felt unsafe.

With the proper training for officers, Fitzsimmons said she thought Tasers could give an already good security staff another tool to prevent violence at the hospital.

“It’s a rare occurrence, but you just never know if someone is under the influence of drugs, mentally ill or psychotic,” she said. The Tasers are “for their safety, staff safety and community safety.”

— To reach Jack Weinstein, call 970-871-4203 or e-mail jweinstein@SteamboatToday.com

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