Washington County MD April 27 2018 The Washington County Sheriff’s Office will supplement security at Meritus Medical Center with four officers, starting in about a year.
Until then, the sheriff’s office will provide deputies on overtime “as available,” according to a five-year contract the Washington County Board of Commissioners approved 3-1 Tuesday. The agreement, for three deputies and a supervisor to help with 24/7 security coverage, can be renewed annually.
Meritus will pay for overtime in the short term, plus officers and equipment, including uniforms and vehicles, in the long term. The startup costs will be $574,000. Annual costs after that will be $336,000, said Lee Shaver Jr., vice president of professional support services for Meritus Health.
The agreement is the latest security enhancement at the hospital.
Security measures were prompted by staff feedback, not a specific incident, Shaver said.
As of March 1, visitors at the hospital’s four public entrances go through a metal-detection wanding area, show photo ID and get a visitor sticker. Meritus added 19 more private security officers, for a total of 56, to do the wanding, hospital officials said.
Adding non-armed officers costs $607,000 a year.
In the first month, more than 500 unauthorized metal objects were detected, including box cutters and a handful of firearms, Shaver said. Visitors can store items in a vehicle or the hospital will secure them.
Meritus spokeswoman Joelle Butler wrote in an email that from July 1, 2016, to June 30, 2017, the emergency department had 72,971 visitors, which includes patients. The hospital does not track total visitors.
Before experienced officers can be assigned to Meritus, candidates have to go through the police academy and be ready for solo patrol, Sheriff Doug Mullendore said. Meritus could get the officers around April 2019. They would not come from the existing authorized patrol, Mullendore said.
An officer assigned to the hospital could answer a call outside the hospital only if it’s a “dire emergency,” he said.
Shaver said Meritus will continue training employees on de-escalation. The hospital made $345,000 in security improvements to the emergency department this year.
Commissioners President Terry Baker wanted more time on Tuesday to read the agreement and address questions, so he voted against the contract.
Mullendore said the commissioners needed to approve the contract Tuesday to get candidates in the police academy on May 14. The next academy is in 2019.
Commissioners Vice President Jeff Cline and Commissioner John Barr supported the contract.
With Commissioner LeRoy Myers absent, Commissioner Wayne Keefer had the deciding vote.
Keefer wanted to wait a week, saying, “I don’t like being pressured like this.” He eventually voted to approve the contract.
Baker said after the meeting that he didn’t think the county should pay to have four officers trained and was concerned about the county government growing. He said he learned of the proposed agreement Friday and thought it was “wrong” to need a decision on Tuesday. “Something stinks,” he said.
County Administrator Rob Slocum said the county’s and Meritus’ legal teams were working on the agreement and had a “great deal of discussion back and forth.”