ST. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO) — Some hospital security officers say HealthEast is not doing enough to keep its employees safe from unruly and unstable visitors.

They point to the attack last November inside St. John’s Hospital in Maplewood. Surveillance cameras captured images of a patient swinging a metal bar at nurses as they scrambled to escape.

(credit: CBS)

(credit: CBS)

At Bethesda Hospital near the State Capitol, a nurse has been keeping track of the number of times a patient bites, kicks, hits or shoves someone on duty. According to her count, it’s about 2.5 times a month.

The most serious calls bring the police, but it is usually the responsibility of on-site security. And Bethesda security officer Kyle McGinn said he and his fellow officers are sometimes working alone at HealthEast facilities.

“We believe that a minimum staffing level should be two officers on at all times at the non-acute sites — Bethesda and Midway,” McGinn said. “At acute sites, it should be a minimum of three officers.”

The officers are now trying to form a union in hopes of getting greater influence on security decisions. Unlike other hospital employees, though, security officers need the company’s permission to unionize.

To this point, HealthEast is saying no. So the officers and union supporters tried to apply some pressure Wednesday, holding a news conference outside Bethesda Hospital, then crowding into the administration office and asking to meet with top officials.

“What we want to do is partner with management and work together, work together to make this a safer campus,” AFSCME Council 5 Executive Director Eliot Seide said.

Bethesda Hospital President Cathy Barr thanked the security officers for the work they do, but HealthEast Labor Relations Director Mark Sorenson called the group’s presence in the office a disruption.

“We’re not interested in accepting anything from you that would be along the terms of recognizing the union, so I think our business is done here today,” Sorenson said.

The company released a statement later in the day: “HealthEast places a high value on our Safety and Security team and we appreciate the wonderful work they do every day to maintain a safe and secure environment for HealthEast patients, families, visitors and staff at all of our locations. Any concerns important to our Safety and Security team will be discussed directly with members of that team.”

Earlier this year, state lawmakers addressed this issue of violence toward hospital staff. They are requiring hospitals to offer training to staff and have a response plan for these incidents. This takes effect in January of 2016.

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