HHC After Dark

Keeping the peace in the Emergency Department

By Gary Kleeblatt

We are well aware of the valuable work done by HHC team members on second and third shifts and will highlight their contributions in every issue.

Photo by Chris Rakoczy

Working as a Hartford Hospital Emergency Department security officer demands the ability to adjust to anything that comes in the door — from expectant mothers to psychiatric patients threatening to harm themselves.

Joseph Huggins, a security officer for almost three years, knows things can go from joy to despair within minutes and without announcement.

“One minute, I’m walking a pregnant woman into labor and delivery, all excited and elated, and five minutes later I’m pulling someone who has been shot or stabbed out of a car,” he said. “It’s demanding to make those adjustments. But it’s also rewarding to help, whether it’s a tragedy or joyful event.”

Huggins needed his entire toolbox of compassion and control working second shift in the ED on a Saturday night in August.

At 7 p.m., he dealt with a patient being escorted out after assaulting a nurse. Fifteen minutes later, he was helping an elderly man get a cab ride home.

“It does my heart good when I can help someone,” Huggins said. “But, there are other times when you’ve got to turn your emotions off and adjust.”

None appreciate the role of security more than the staff who often would be unable to safely do their jobs without them. This ED is an intense immersion in urban life, and Huggins and other security officers are peacekeepers preventing the place from exploding.

While many come to the ED after an accident or injury, others — particularly this night — are intoxicated or mentally ill. Often both. Angry tirades, insults and threats are on full display. Many regular visitors are always on the edge of violence.

“It does my heart good when I can help someone.”

“Security helps us do our job safely,” said Charge Nurse Lynsey Blakeslee. “It is imperative for our safety.”

Security creates an environment where care is possible. Patient care associate Shanna-Kay Levy, who monitored the locked psychiatric unit, said, “Sometimes the patients get out of control and we need to step back and let security help us restore the peace.”

Huggins stayed calm no matter what confronted him. He helped contain a man who had come in four times within 24 hours, was highly belligerent and carrying a crack pipe. He was followed by a man threatening to hurt himself, and other screaming, intoxicated people in various stages of distress.

Huggins remained calm, while showing patients there is a line they cannot cross.“Patients who cross the line and escalate, it’s your job to de-escalate,” he said. “I have to stay in control because staff depends on me.”

Other moments called on Huggins’ compassion. A 16-year-old was brought in after a motorcycle crash. When the teen’s shaken grandmother came in, Huggins consoled her.

Huggins, who worked as a police and corrections officer, understands the job requires a special person.

“Lots of people are not cut out for this type of work,” he said.