SKOWHEGAN — The Police Department has reached an agreement with administrators at Redington-Fairview General Hospital to increase the hospital’s role in security matters and to reimburse the town department when it responds to emergencies at the hospital.
In the past, Police Chief Ted Blais said, police officers were called to help control unruly patients, usually in the emergency room. Now police are sent only in emergency situations or for routine crime and accident investigations, with increased hospital staff picking up the rest.
“The hospital is taking a long hard look at how often the police are called and what they’re called for and what they’re doing,” Blais said. “I’m impressed. Now they have more security in mind and how the whole emergency area runs.”
Blais said with recent emergency room leadership changes, hospital personnel no longer immediately call the police when there is a disruptive patient.
Hospital public relations director Carol Steward said when Blais asked for help this summer, the hospital responded.
“We agreed with him that we really needed to look at how we were requesting police,” Steward said. “We have great respect for them. They come when we need them and we don’t want to abuse that privilege, so by adding our own security hours and making sure our requests are appropriate for their time, I feel like we’ve been very efficient since September in utilizing police services here in town.”
Blais said under the new agreement, the hospital pays for details in special situations, such as when a patient is combative and threatens hospital staff and a police officer is needed.
“There are a lot of people being brought in there for mental health issues,” Blais said.
Steward said since September the hospital has reimbursed the Skowhegan Police Department for about 70-80 hours of time at the hospital, primarily in the emergency room, at an hourly rate of $28.50. Police were not reimbursed before the adoption of the mutual agreement, she said.
Steward said the hospital only had partial security coverage during the week, with two security officers during the day Monday through Friday and one person on weekends and nights. Since September, the hospital added round-the-clock coverage by hiring two full-time security officers, bringing the total from nine to 11 employees, as well as a handful of part-time ones. Hospital security staff now log 234 hours per week, she said.
The hospital also added the position of security and communications manager, Steward said.
“Before, we would only cover Thursday through Sunday night. We would only cover what we thought were our weekend busy times,” Steward said. “We did some studies and it turns out our busy times were throughout the week — there were not particular days that were worse than others. That’s why we made the adjustments.”
Blais said people can become agitated after sitting in the emergency room for an extended period of time and hospital officials now are making sure patients are seen quicker so they don’t become upset and cause a problem for which police are needed.
“The hospital has made big changes on how they process folks going through the emergency room,” he said. “That has caused folks to be not as frustrated, which causes us not to be there as often. In the past it’s been a real issue, but I think we’re making really good ground here and less of a cost on the town.”
Mike Smith, director of communications at the Somerset County Regional Communications Center, which takes all calls for service, said it is impossible to isolate how many calls are specific to the hospital over the course of the year.
Smith said calls that are designated as ones to assist another agency at the hospital may originate as a domestic violence report or a traffic accident, so a computer search would not tag it as a hospital call for a disruptive patient. Other instances could include someone needing medical attention following a fight, public intoxication or someone who has had to leave the homeless shelter and wants to go to the hospital.
Blais said the agreement with the hospital also includes other police agencies serving in Somerset County, so patients in need of medical or mental health attention are not just dropped off at the hospital to become the responsibility of Skowhegan police if they create a disturbance.
“That was a real sore spot — why are we taking the brunt of the whole county,” Blais said. “We get stuck with being there.”
Blais said smaller police departments, such as Madison, where there is just one officer on duty overnight, had to either drop a patient off or leave the patrol beat unattended.
If someone was taken to the hospital for protective custody because they said they wanted to hurt themselves or somebody else, a police officer would be assigned to that person until that person was medically cleared, a mental health evaluation was completed and placement, if necessary, could be arranged, which could take hours.
“We only have so many officers working and if half the shift has an officer over there for hours, that’s really hard on the town — we’ve got other calls to go to,” he said. “If we have to stay there for an extended period of time and take away from the regular patrol, that’s bad.”
An off-duty officer would have to be called in for the special detail of standing by the patient or back-up officers from other jurisdictions would be called for emergencies.
Now hospital security handles the bulk of the calls for service.