Patient Watch program designed to keep patients safe

Officers provide direct observation of patients
Aug. 3, 2016

Memorial Hospital has launched a Patient Watch program to keep patients and employees safer while they’re in the hospital.

Sometimes, patients who have dementia, mental health or substance abuse problems may become combative or suicidal. A Patient Watch officer sits in a patient’s room and helps de-escalate a patient before he or she does harm.

“Sometimes, a patient’s mental faculties aren’t really all there. They require additional assistance and additional support, and that’s one of the reasons we are providing this additional help,’’ said Holly Urban, director of acute care for Memorial.

The Patient Watch program is designed to help keep patients safe. Dennis Maes, a security officer at UCHealth Memorial Hospital, shows the uniform – a polo shirt and khaki pants – that are worn by patient watch officers.

Patient Watch program
The Patient Watch program is designed to help keep patients safe. Dennis Maes, a security officer at UCHealth Memorial Hospital, shows the uniform – a polo shirt and khaki pants – that are worn by patient watch officers.

Memorial has “Patient Watch’’ officers, employees of Allied Barton, the contractor that provides security for UCHealth, available around the clock. The officers dress in casual clothing – khaki pants and a long-sleeved polo shirt – and sit with patients in their hospital room.

“We’re being proactive so that we can help patients and help our staff feel safer,’’ said Terry Knapp, director of security for Memorial Hospital. “We use the Patient Watch program for patients who have the ability or have been known to get physical with caregivers.’’

Patient Watch officers are different than sitters, in that they are not caregivers. An officer who sees a patient in medical distress would, of course, call a nurse or tech for help. Sitters, who also provide direct observation of patients, have basic health care skills and immediately call for a nurse.

“This is giving us extra help in caring for patients,’’ Urban said.

Pat Conroy, director, Safety and Environment of Care for UCHealth, said UCH began a Patient Watch program about five years ago.

“The biggest advantage is that this program frees up staff clinical resources that used to move to do the watches on inpatient units,’’ Conroy said. “We train all of the watch officers the same way in terms of de-escalation training and documentation. From the staff’s perspective, it relieves a burden on them and provides reassurance that there is trained backup in-place.’’

While workplace safety is a growing concern across the United States, more than 31 states, including Colorado, have laws that make assault against caregivers a felony. However, across health care, there is  significant underreporting of assault on care givers.

According to a report in the New England Journal of Medicine, “Only 30 percent of nurses report incidents of workplace violence; among physicians, the reporting rate is 26 percent. Underreporting is due in part to a health care culture that is resistant to the belief that providers are at risk for patient-initiated violence and complacency in thinking that violence is ‘part of the job.’ ”

Knapp, who served 30 years in the U.S. Navy before joining UCHealth, said that’s a way of thinking that needs to be changed.

“No one deserves to be assaulted at work, and no one should expect to be assaulted when they come to work,’’ Knapp said.

Though Memorial’s Patient Watch program is only a few weeks old, and modeled after one in place at UCH, Knapp said that there already is a decline in the number of “Code Gray’’ alarms. A “Code Gray’’ is called when there is a behavioral health emergency with an agitated patient. Those calls generate a response from a team of security officers, a doctor, nurse and social worker.

“Our officers can go hands-on with a patient if he or she becomes dangerous, so we are averting Code Grays because we are already there to de-escalate the situation,’’ Knapp said.

The new program developed out of the Workplace Violence Committee at Memorial. Patient Watch officers receive intensive and specialized training and they are available 24/7.

“Their job is to do nothing else but watch the patient. It can be uneventful, but should it turn into a high-risk situation, the officer is there to attempt to de-escalate the situation,’’ Knapp said.

About the author

Erin Emery is editor of UCHealth Today, a hub for medical news, inspiring patient stories and tips for healthy living. Erin spent years as a reporter for The Denver Post, Colorado Springs Gazette and Colorado Springs Sun. She was part of a team of Denver Post reporters who won the 2000 Pulitzer Prize for breaking news reporting.

Erin joined UCHealth in 2008, and she is awed by the strength of patients and their stories.