​​ Hugo Fernandes
Hugo Fernandes has been a UHN Security guard for the past 11 years. From de-escalating situations to building a rapport with marginalized community members, he says the job is all about communication and building trust. (Photo: UHN)

In July, a number of Code White (violent person) calls were made for a distressed patient in the Mental Health Inpatient Unit on the eighth floor of Toronto General Hospital.

Hugo Fernandes, a guard with UHN Security, was one of the responding officers.

When he arrived on the floor, he first met with clinical staff to learn about the situation and then calmly approached the patient.

"Hey, you alright?" he asked, while maintaining a safe distance.

The patient, still in distress, proceeded to act out and yell, but Hugo remained calm.

"Sometimes they see my uniform and may be in fear," Hugo says. "I just reassure them that I'm here to facilitate and do whatever I can to make them happy."

Responding to 200,000 calls per year

Hugo took the time to listen to the patient and learned that they were upset because their appointment time changed. He offered to take the patient to the appointment himself.

According to Linda Liu, a psychiatry clinical nurse specialist, Hugo and his team took an "impeccable trauma-informed stance" in this Code White incident.

"While the patient was evidently triggered by the number of clinicians, our Security colleagues kept a safe distance from the patient, which fostered trust and rapport," says Linda. "No one was hurt and chemical restraints were not even required.

"The patient felt that the Security team was an ally."

Hugo is one of many security guards across UHN being celebrated during Healthcare Security and Safety Week, Oct. 10 to 16. Together, the team works behind the scenes and on the frontlines to safeguard staff, patients, visitors and the hospital system.

The team responds to 200,000 calls each year, ranging from emergency code responses (such as a Code White or Code Blue for cardiac arrest/medical emergency), to requests for site access, safety incidents or patrols, parking enforcement and even missing or lost items.

Rebekah Mohammed, Chris Malcolm, Miriam Mounk
Security guards (L to R) Rebekah Mohammed, Chris Malcolm and Miriam Mounk, together with their fellow UHN Security colleagues, respond to 200,000 calls each year, ranging from emergency code responses to requests for site access, safety incidents or patrols, parking enforcement and even missing or lost items. (Photo: UHN)

According to Hugo, the job is all about communication and relationship building.

"If you're here (at the hospital), you're probably not having a good day," says Hugo. "A lot of the people we deal with, in their own way, just want to vent and be heard."

Patrolling Toronto General Hospital and its Emergency Department (ED) means he doesn't only interact with staff, patients and families – he's also interacting with people from the downtown community who may be experiencing homelessness. Hugo offers the same respect he would give anyone at UHN, getting to know them by name, carrying bus fare and working with ED staff to offer takeout bags of food if needed.

"We're not going to fight with them because they're hungry," says Hugo. "You have to build a rapport at the start, so that every other interaction is a good one."

Kaimraj Dookie, a security guard at the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, is also well known for going above and beyond his duties.

He gets to know many patients and families, some of whom have sent him thank you cards for making a difference in their cancer journey. Inspired by his work at the Princess Margaret, he's also a regular participant in the Weekend to Conquer Cancer, raising $500 to $1,000 each year.

"At the hospital, we see the pain people go through and the suffering," says Kaimraj. "As a security guard, you see so many things where you can help."

Kaimraj Dookie
Kaimraj Dookie has been a security guard at UHN for 26 years. He loves getting to know patients and families at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre so much that he's also a regular participant in the Weekend to Conquer Cancer. (Photo: UHN)

For example, when he found a lost cell phone in the security office, he did everything he could to track down its owner.

The back of the phone had a sticker for global lost and found service Return Me, so he called the number and the company tracked down the owner.

The phone belonged to the widow of a Princess Margaret patient and it had the couple's final photos together. The woman was in tears when she learned she was getting her phone back.

"It touches my spirit to make a difference," says Kaimraj. "This is what my job is all about – if I can make a difference in somebody's life, I will do it."

Working in 'a bustling, complex environment'

According to Todd Milne, Director, Security Operations, UHN Connect, Fire & Life Safety, protecting a healthcare organization reaches far beyond what is commonly expected of a security department.

"At any given time, there are thousands of people across our sites," says Todd. "From the panic felt in the waiting areas, to the calm, collected hands of clinical spaces – this is a bustling, complex environment."

At UHN, the needs of patients always come first – and it's no different with Security Operations, says Todd.

"We couldn't be more proud of our team's hard work and commitment to ensuring a safe and healing environment for all."

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