Security guard Ismahan Abdi started working at Toronto General Hospital in early 2022. She credits the intensive UHN Security Operations training for her success in the role so far. She hopes to eventually use her UHN experience to become a police officer. (Photo: UHN)

UHN security guard Ismahan Abdi knew she wanted to work in law enforcement since she was a teenager.

"I want to protect the vulnerable, because I've been that person and nobody was there for me in my country," says Ismahan, who immigrated to Canada from her native Somalia in high school.

"A large percentage of my community, they don't have the best relationship with police, or don't have the best opinion of them. I want to bridge the gap for Somali people and policing."

She went to school in Toronto for Police Foundations and decided to get experience in security before moving on to police training.

She started in corporate security, then moved to UHN's Security Operations in early 2022.

"It's very challenging and rewarding," Ismahan says. "I like the fact that I can help people and every day is not the same."

Healthcare Security and Safety Week is Oct. 9 to 15. UHN security guards such as Ismahan play a critical role in serving healthcare facilities, personnel, patients and visitors.

New intensive training program began earlier this year

Ismahan works the night shift, 7:30 p.m. to 7:30 a.m., at Toronto General Hospital.

"Depending on the calls we're on – the job itself will keep you awake," she says, joking that Tim Hortons is close-by if she ever needs a caffeine boost.

In a single shift, she'll respond to codes from Code Red for fire to Code Blue for cardiac arrest, answer calls for security, assist clinical staff when needed and conduct routine patrols – which involves surveying her assigned area for anything out of place, checking for floods, smells, exposed wires and any other hazards.

"Whatever is going on in the hospital, we are always there," says Ismahan. "Our eyes are open to catch anything out of the ordinary – even if it doesn't fall under security."

Ismahan credits the success she's seen so far in the role to the training provided by UHN Security Operations.

"Our training is very intensive," says Ismahan. "It was one of the best trainings I've ever had."

She got to meet and engage with people with disabilities, from someone who is legally blind to a person with autism, exchange perspectives with people from equity deserving groups and hear from patients who shared lived experiences about interactions with security and law.

'It's good for the team and it's good for patients'

Using a narrative-based learning experience, the training reviews the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA), how to respond to mental health scenarios and much more.

The training is new to UHN – it just rolled out in February, 2022.

Trevor Hanagan, Corporate Manager, Security Operations, Training & Professional Standards, worked closely with UHN's Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, Accessibility and Antiracism team to develop it.

"This kind of training is important in healthcare security … because we want to shift the culture to be a patient-focused, community-focused team," says Trevor.

The training sessions serve as a safe space for open conversations.

"We talk about scenarios, we watch videos of current events, discuss what you see and what you think maybe went wrong – we put the team in other people's perspectives," says Trevor. "It's good for the team and it's good for patients."

Trevor has already seen positive change, such as security guards on a first-name basis with patients and community members.

"It's better to build those connections, as opposed to seeing my team as just enforcers," he says.

'Working in healthcare is very rewarding'

The training also involves routine security protocols and de-escalation techniques.

"If a person is combative, you try to get them to a lower level or volume – and if you can't, you try to maintain where they are," Ismahan says about the techniques she learned. "I usually come in a tad bit calmer, just trying to see if they can mimic what I'm doing – sometimes people just don't realize they're shouting."

Ultimately, Ismahan's goal is safety: "to make sure this person is safe, the staff are safe and we are safe."

According to Trevor, the UHN training and experience will make Ismahan a "shoe-in" for law enforcement.

Fortunately for UHN, Ismahan isn't ready to make the move anytime soon.

"I'm really liking where I am right now," she says. "Working in healthcare is very rewarding."

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