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Hospital security chief James Ward likens the medical complex to a small city, which will experience some crime.
By PATRICK COOPER
© St. Petersburg Times, published February 24, 2001
ST. PETERSBURG -- Jason Allen fell off a ladder Nov. 30, knocking him unconscious, and he was taken by helicopter to Bayfront Medical Center. He was treated in the trauma unit and released later in the day.
But when he went to the pharmacist that evening to get medicine, $91 that was in his wallet was gone.
In the weeks after the theft, Allen, 26, said hospital staff seldom returned his phone calls. They did tell him that a police officer would contact him about the theft, but that never happened, he said.
The St. Petersburg Police Department has no record of the theft ever being reported to them. Allen said the hospital reimbursed him for his loss only after he told them he would talk to the media.
"As far as the medical staff, I thought they were all incredible. I'm not going to judge the hospital by maybe what one person was doing," Allen said. "I wasn't real impressed with the fact that nobody wanted to deal with me."
At Bayfront, several trauma patients suffered thefts this winter, but James Ward, head of hospital security, said recently that these cases are definitely exceptions to the norm.
Thefts at Bayfront have dropped every year since 1997, Ward said. He credited his staff's constant monitoring of the hospital and the cooperation of other hospital employees with security procedures.
"We all look out for each other, and we take care of each other," Ward said.
In 2000 there were 41 thefts reported to hospital security, he said. There were 45 in 1999, 53 in 1998 and 67 in 1997. The few thefts that do occur come as a cost of achieving a greater good, Ward said.
"Patient physical welfare comes before anything else. Everything else is secondary," he said. "Sometimes -- not through anybody's fault -- things fall through the cracks."
On Dec. 1, the day after Allen's money was stolen, $200 was stolen from a woman's purse in the trauma unit. The theft was reported to the police and she was reimbursed.
Ward said the security staff encourages all victims to make police reports, which can help the police recognize city crime patterns and can help the victim in collecting from insurance.
But only some stolen and lost items at the hospital end up being reported to the police. While Ward recorded 41 thefts in 2000, police documents show that they received only 16 reports of theft.
He said hospital security has a "good working relationship" with St. Petersburg police. This level of comfort has given the security force an understanding of when to call.
"The police are a last resort," he said. "It's kind of fruitless to call them ahead of time, especially when we can locate it first."
Working regularly inside the hospital, Ward said his force has the best chance at finding a lost or stolen item. Their knowledge of the building allows them to quickly sweep areas of the hospital where the loss or theft could have occurred, he said.
When the aid of the Police Department has been needed, Ward said they have been quick to respond: "If anything happens -- boom! -- they're here."
Ward compared the 2,500 to 3,000 people at Bayfront on an average day to being "like a small city." And he and his 12-person staff has the job of monitoring the masses.
At least three officers are on duty 24 hours a day at Bayfront: one watching the security monitors, one in the emergency room and one roving throughout the hospital.
There are 74 video cameras used for security in the complex. Some of the cameras can be aimed remotely, but there are limits. Because of confidentiality laws, the cameras cannot monitor patient rooms or spaces, including the trauma room.
But hospital security has tried to stop thefts, Ward said.
There are procedures for storing valuables or other belongings of all patients and special security is given to trauma patients, he said. "Everything is documented."
For "pre-admit" patients, who have scheduled hospital stays, hospital officials give them instructions on what they should not bring. For hospital employees, Ward has weekly announcements, reminders and warnings in Bayline, a staff newsletter, in addition to using e-mail and posted signs.
If patients do lose items or they are stolen, Bayfront Risk Manager Isabelle Smith said recently that the hospital tries to determine if the hospital ever had "care, custody and control" of the items. If the hospital is found to be responsible for an item, reimbursement money comes from the operating budget of the hospital unit that was responsible, Smith said. She estimated the money used for reimbursement in patient thefts as more than $10,000 a year.
With more than 51,000 patients at Bayfront in 2000, Smith said the hospital seems to be doing "a pretty darn good job" with security.
And for some, even being a victim of a theft won't hurt their similar support of hospital security.
The wallet of Bonnie Lust, an administrative assistant who runs the hospital's conference center, was stolen in April when she left it in a desk drawer. The wallet contained only $4 but also credit and ATM cards.
Despite the theft, Lust said she felt very secure working in the hospital. "There's someone in the security office at all times," she said.
The theft of her wallet occurred within days of several other thefts, including another wallet, a digital camera and a laptop computer. Police records displayed the give and take nature of what is reported: Lust's wallet and the camera were reported while the laptop was noted only indirectly on a report and the other wallet was not reported.
It was the work of hospital security that established a suspect in the thefts. Ward said he analyzed videotapes and found the same man walking around the areas where each of the thefts occurred.
As he was talking to a police officer in the hospital one day, he saw the man again and the officer questioned him.
No arrest was made, but the thefts stopped and Ward said since then the man hasn't been seen at Bayfront.