GREENFIELD — Growing violence against healthcare workers has prompted the Hancock Health Foundation to attempt to raise $20,000 to equip Hancock Health’s security team with bulletproof vests.
The fundraiser kicks off Tuesday, Nov. 28, which is Giving Tuesday, a day which promotes online charitable giving and volunteerism.
The move comes two months after Hancock Regional Hospital purchased four concealed weapon detectors for use at each of the hospital’s four public entrances.
“With a significant recent increase in violence towards hospital workers across the country, it has become a priority to protect those who are protecting us,” said Allyson Smith, the Hancock Health Foundation’s executive director.
According to security manager Shawn Smith (no relation), who leads a team of 18 security officers at Hancock Regional Hospital, verbal and physical violence against healthcare workers is on the rise worldwide.
“There’s a lot of serious violence involved with healthcare workers. It’s five times more than what it was in 2019,” he said, referencing data shared by the International Association for Healthcare Security & Safety.
According to IAHSS.org, “healthcare workers are more affected by violence than any other profession, and those who protect healthcare workers are caught between the need to protect those workers and protect their mission to care for their patients. This tension makes the here and now one of the most challenging times to be a healthcare security professional.”
Shawn Smith said the immense stress of the COVID pandemic seemed to accelerate the number of violent episodes, which continues to climb today.
As a father of two young kids, he’s grateful that the local health foundation is raising funds to help keep him and his fellow officers safe.
“The ballistic vests will give me plenty of sleep at night knowing my officers are protected,” he said.
“If we were to have an actual active shooter, everyone else is trained to run, hide and fight, but our guys are trained to run to the threat, so they need to be protected.”
The former corrections officer has worked in hospital security since 2015 and was promoted to chief of police for IU Health’s central region in 2019.
He’s seen healthcare workers abused through slapping, grabbing, hitting, spitting, even flinging bodily waste.
“There’s a lot of emotional people that are coming into the hospital, and sometimes people don’t deal with those emotions real well and they take it out on our healthcare staff,” he said.
After the heightened stress of the COVID pandemic, Smith said he was happy to transition to Hancock Health for a different change of pace, but he pointed out that no healthcare center is immune from the threat of violence.
“This past weekend, we had some violent patients in her ER who were verbally and physically aggressive. It’s really hard to nail down on what day it will happen, but it’s usually in the evening. A lot of verbal threats happen at that time,” he said. “Here at Hancock, we’re seeing more and more homeless patients, and we’re seeing more verbally aggressive visitors and patients, so we have to be prepared,” Smith said.
“Providing our officers with (personal protective equipment) will help protect them and help them efficiently do their jobs, so they can protect those providing lifesaving care. I hope people find it in their heart to donate,” he said.
Ballistic vests are no small expenses, which is why the hospital foundation has set a goal of raising $20,000 for the purchase.
“The vests are around $1,000 to $1,200, so if we raise $20,000 we can purchase 13 vests as well as some additional equipment and tools that they need, including new radios,” said Allyson Smith.
“NineStar Connect is providing a matching gift of $10,000, so every donation from the community will have double the impact,” she said.
Donations will be accepted through Dec. 31, so vests can be purchased in early 2024.
The foundation director has high hopes for the campaign.
“This community is so generous and extremely supportive of law enforcement and public safety, so I’m hopeful that donors will make this a priority with their year-end charitable giving,” she said.
Shawn Smith that the need for increased security at healthcare facilities will continue to rise. Healthcare campuses are naturally a place where emotions run high, he added, which can lead to unexpected outbursts.
Purchasing protective vests and weapon detectors are great steps toward keeping the campus safe, he said.
Since installing two of four concealed weapon detectors at hospital entrances in early September, he said roughly 160 concealed weapons were detected within the first 75 days.
“We’ve always had signs posted prohibiting firearms or weapons on campus, but people would bring them in anyway,” said the security director. The other two detectors should be in place within the next 45 days, he said, with all four staffed by security personnel.
To contribute to the health foundation’s fundraising initiative, visit HancockHealth.org/foundation and designate your gift to the Hancock Health Security Fund.