HIBBING — Increased security measures have been put in place at Fairview Range Medical Center where authorities are reporting an increased level of violence in the emergency department.

The number of threats made against medical staff by people with serious mental health issues or psychosis brought on by chemical dependency or substance abuse disorders has raised safety concerns. In response, the healthcare system recently installed 22 new Internet Protocol cameras and deployed 60 distress buttons for a total of 75 spots throughout the hospital, said Denzil Mellors, manager for security services and emergency management. The system has also purchased safety vests for the 12 security officers, including Mellors, a move that has become common practice for Fairview Range Services locations in the Twin Cities.

“We’re not trying to catch shoplifters here,” Mellors said during a recent interview with the Hibbing Daily Tribune. “We’re protecting our staff and patients.”

Fairview volunteers help fund security costs

Beverly Moberg, is the coordinator of the hospital’s volunteer service, who oversees 130 members acting as the “front lines” of the medical center in helping to provide information for incoming patients, among other duties. Like others among the 1,200 employees at Fairview Range, many of the volunteers have stories about people coming into the hospital and threatening them or others with acts of violence.

In a recent interview, Moberg told the HDT that part of the volunteers’ mission statement involves raising money from the Gift Nook on site and throwing fundraisers “to help purchase goods and services for the medical center.” The volunteers have been known to raise up to $100,000 per year.

Mellors has nearly three decades of experience in security to offer instruction to the volunteers when it comes to handling sometimes volatile situations involving people struggling with psychosis brought on by chemical dependency or substance abuse disorder, and those with mental health issues.

In 2017, Mellors approached Moberg to ask if the volunteers were interested in donating $9,500 to update the security camera system and the distress buttons. Then last year, he requested $8,500 to purchase safety vests.

“We said ‘yes’ to promote patient care and safety,” Moberg said.

Background on workplace violence

The health care and social service industries in America experience the highest rates of injuries due to workplace violence. (In general, the term “workplace violence” includes the verbal threat or use of physical force against an employee, psychological trauma, or stress.) In 2016, the U.S. Government Accountability Office reported that people who work in such industries suffered 69 percent of such injuries and remain five times as likely to suffer an injury than workers overall, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Justice. More than 730,000 cases of health care workplace assaults were reported between 2009 and 2013.

Furthermore, the American College of Emergency Physicians reported that 47 percent of emergency room doctors have been physically assaulted at work.

A prime reason for the uptick in violence involves the national and statewide problem of emergency departments being flooded with patients with mental illness.

In 2016, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, an arm of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, reported that 43.6 million American adults had a mental, behavioral or emotional disorder, and that one in eight visits to emergency departments involved mental and substance use disorders.

The state of Minnesota has followed the national trend. Last year, the Minnesota Hospital Association found that total in-state emergency room visits increased a manageable 16.2 percent between 2010 and 2017, but mental health and substance abuse visits jumped 75.1 percent. The result puts a heavy burden on the handful of local healthcare systems in the northeastern part of the state, such as Fairview Range in Hibbing, Essentia Health in Virginia and Grand Itasca Clinic and Hospital in Grand Rapids. Police departments on the Iron Range have reported bringing people into the emergency department at Fairview Range for psychiatric evaluations at alarming rates.

Kelly Lawson, director of Emergency and Behavioral Health Services, previously said earlier this year that about 75 percent of patients that come to the emergency department are under the influence of alcohol or drugs and might have to stay there for up to 20 hours, before sobering up enough to complete their evaluations. It is not unusual for the hospital to evaluate four people on a daily basis, two of which must be stabilized in the 11-bed emergency department.

Previous efforts to increase security

Raised in South Africa, Mellors emigrated into the U.S. and moved into Minnesota in 1992. He worked security for Ramsey County for seven years and then for Minnesota Medical Center in the Twin Cities for 23 years. Mellors explained that he was hired less than four years ago at Fairview Range in Hibbing to help bump up security measures given the rise in workplace violence in the emergency department.

At that time, Fairview Range employed six security officers — two per shift — who carried around radios and called out to the Hibbing Police Department if things got hairy. In his short time here, Mellors added five more security officers and armed them with radios, handcuffs, tasers, batons and pepper spray. (Mellors is a certified taser-instructor and plans on getting at least two of his staff members certified to teach others how to use batons and handcuffs in Hibbing.)

“It’s for the safety of the staff and patients,” Mellors said.

Aside from having the newly acquired tools, Mellors remains a strong believer in a de-escalation approach to security, which has become a trend in law enforcement departments across the nation. The tactic is reported to reduce physical force and the risk of confrontations turning violent or deadly. In that vein, he has been teaching staff and volunteers how to calmly interact with people suffering from chemical dependency and mental health issues.

Last year, he instructed an eight-hour course called Youth Mental Health First Aid. “My goal is to demystify mental illness,” he told the HDT at the time. “We can really help people in our community.” During the course, Mellors taught people what to do when a teenager displays dangerous signs or symptoms of mental illness and substance use disorders. His class offered role-playing scenarios to demonstrate the most effective ways to offer help. Mellors offered a similar course earlier this year and focused on educating people on how to provide initial help to others in crisis while fostering a solid understanding of prevalent disorders.

“Everyone from the volunteers to security officers have people in their lives who struggle with drugs or mental health issues,” Mellors recently told the HDT. “We try to treat people with respect.”

Moberg can recall several instances when patients threatened her and the other volunteers. Such scenarios occur in hospitals across the state and nation, she said, yet she feels it is imperative that volunteers continue to receive training on such matters.

“It’s about creating awareness,” she said. “The volunteers are favorable of the training and are partnering with security to get more. The training makes us feel confident. It makes us feel like we are not alone. It helps us remain the heart of the Fairview Range team.”

“You are a part of the team,” Mellors told Moberg.

•••

The Fairview Range Medical Center Volunteer Service Organization is scheduled to host an annual fundraising event called “Emporium Shop A-Lot” between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. on Saturday in the Hibbing Armoury. The organization is always searching for more volunteers. To become a member, contact Bev Moberg at 218-362-6112. (Graphics from Tom)

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