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Littleton Hospital and police pioneering new collaborative model

April 16, 2018
LITTLETON—Littleton Regional Hospital leadership is pursuing a more collaborative relationship with the Littleton Police Department, thanks to a home-grown New Hampshire training program which aims to improve safety and patient experience by emphasizing empathy on the job, and co-training.

Diane Allen, a registered nurse at Concord's New Hampshire Hospital, has worked with Lieutenant Frank Harris of the State's Campus Police Unit, to craft a training module that aims to facilitate more productive and better prepared relations between police and hospitals. Littleton Regional Hospital (LRH) first asked them to visit this summer, and last week they led a second training for 22 local staff and leadership team members. The training was voluntary and open to all employees. The pair have also been asked to visit Weeks Memorial Hospital, and several other area facilities.

Lt. Harris said the training, called SECURE, was shaped over two decades of experience at New Hampshire Hospital. It seeks to decrease the number of violent episodes hospital staff face from patients with mental health challenges. The focus is twofold:

First, hospital staff and security are encouraged to exercise empathy for patients, to engage them and understand them, rather than ignore them or treat them as constant threats. Harris and Allen argue that patients are most likely to be violent when they feel afraid and powerless, and that addressing those feelings is the best way to defuse potential situations.

"This is the only program we're aware of that doesn't use a reactionary approach; it uses a proactive approach," Harris explained.

Second, SECURE encourages hospital staff and local police departments to plan and train together. The duo said that while many hospitals, or their leadership, have good personal relationships with police, productive co-training and joint planning is surprisingly rare. And on the other side, not all police departments have such a rosy view of their local hospitals. Even though police departments can make as much as $50 or $60 an hour for security detail, the long hours and unpredictable situations take a toll on local departments, which don't always have much manpower to spare.

Littleton Police Chief Paul Smith acknowledged that in the recent past, officers have been called to LRH for situations of less then critical need, or else asked to watch patients for long, exhausting periods of time. This fatigued officers, took up precious manpower, and contributed to feelings of frustration in his department toward the hospital.

With LRH's new in-house safety team and co-planning effort over the last six months, that tension has been turned into teamwork, and Smith praised the SECURE model for both improving working relations and reducing strain.

"I believe our calls have been reduced by ninety percent," he said. "I hope it will be a model for other hospitals and police departments."

Six months on the job, LRH's security supervisor (and ex-police officer) Brad Sargent is building the campus's in-house security team "from the ground up." Having worked in both worlds, he understand the respective needs and skills of police and hospital staff, each of whom are trained for crisis, but often with very different focuses. A big part of SECURE is developing mutual understanding between the police departments and hospitals that serve each other.

"There's a greater understanding of each side then there was a year ago," said Kim Force, Littleton Regional's Clinical Director of Inpatient Services. She agreed that the unpredictability, extent, and cost of security calls had strained relations with Littleton PD in the past.

Sargent said that reception to the SECURE training at LRH has been very positive, but did entail a cultural shift.

Harris and Allen hope to bring their model state- and nation-wide, with the hope that New Hampshire's blend of strong community and scarce public resources might apply to wider parts of the country. especially as funding for mental health resources diminishes and demand rises.

Garnett Hill
Garnett Hill
Martin Lord Osman
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