Most of the headlines surrounding the roll out of the Affordable Care Act have focused on the government’s inability to solve a myriad of technical problems with the recently launched online health insurance marketplace, Healthcare.gov. However, experts say that Obamacare could also have a substantial impact on physical security at hospitals and other healthcare facilities when the law goes into full effect beginning next year.
Due to provisions within the law that relate to reimbursement for Medicare and Medicaid, Ben Scaglione, director of healthcare security services for G4S and a member at large on the board of the International Association for Healthcare Security and Safety (IAHSS), says that hospitals are being forced to make tough spending decisions regarding support services which include security.
“What healthcare is starting to see right now is a loss in Medicare and Medicaid funding. What Obamacare has setup is that hospitals get a basic set of reimbursement or a basic number of dollars and then to get more of those dollars, it is based on (the hospital’s) clinical data and patient satisfaction data. They have to meet certain national guidelines that are going to be changing over the next couple of years in order to get that higher level of reimbursement,” Scaglione explains.
According to an article published earlier this month by USA Today, the healthcare industry has announced more than 41,000 layoffs so far this year, the third most of any other industry.
“Of course, whenever they layoff people and they want to make extra money they cut security because they think, ‘oh, well look at all this money over here, we’ll just cut that out and life will be wonderful,’” says Caroline Hamilton, president of Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based security consulting firm Risk and Security, LLC. “Then, of course, it isn’t but that’s what happens when you’re an operating expense and you’re not self-funding or revenue generating.”
As a result, many hospitals are trimming internal security personnel from their payroll and outsourcing the job to contract guard services providers.
“My company has been seeing and I know several other contract guard companies have also been seeing a replacement of in-house security staff because we can provide that service at a cheaper rate,” says Scaglione. “And I think across the country you’re seeing that, you’re seeing hospitals contact out management of support services and completely contract out support services so they can focus on clinical services.”
Just because hospitals may eliminate internal security officers in favor of contract guards, however, doesn’t mean that there will be a drop in the quality of service, according to Hamilton.
“I work with a lot of hospitals that have their own, in-house departments and I also work with hospitals that have contract guards and I’ve found that the guard services have really dramatically improved,” she says. “Through the IAHSS, the training level of the guards has improved a lot. I think a lot of the guards are better equipped to deal with threatening situations and I know that management at a lot of the guard companies are stressing guard response to things like workplace violence incidents and things like that. For a hospital that has a limited budget, that’s not always a bad way to go because having your own proprietary guard service is a full-time job for somebody and if you have a limited staff, you don’t want your one security director to be spending all of his time scheduling and checking people.”
As more people obtain health insurance, there will also subsequently be more patient records that have to be kept secured by healthcare providers. Although the protection of patient information is already regulated under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, more commonly referred to as HIPAA, healthcare organizations are not a stranger to data breaches. Earlier this month, laptops containing information on more than 700,000 patients were stolen from an office building in California.