Beyond guards at Kaiser Permanente in Colorado
Beyond guards at Kaiser Permanente in Colorado

Sep 1, 2001 12:00 PM

Three years ago, when Jeff Karpovich became the first security director for Kaiser Permanente's Colorado Region, he was given a chance to build on an operation that, up until then, had been little more than a contract guard force.

Last year, he saw just how good a job he had done when the far-flung HMO ! whose 5,000 employees, providers and staff serve more than 372,000 patients ! was faced with its first workers' strike.

Nurses, physician's assistants, pharmacists, and other support personnel ! all members of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 7 ! walked off the job for what would become a 20-day dispute over wages and working conditions. While the strikers included professionals who were a far cry from the blue-collar workers one typically associates with a work stoppage, Karpovich and his team had to make sure company assets were protected. At the same time, he also had to ensure that confrontations with strikers and union organizers did not escalate into violence.

"I had to oversee all locations where there were strikers," he recalls. "I had four different companies providing security. I flew eight officers out from California, and I had to provide them with lodging."

The success of his efforts could be measured more in what did not happen, rather than in what did. There was no violence, and the strike ended peacefully with employees returning to work. Reaching a resolution, however, was not easy.

Karpovich carefully trained his security force to deal with any situation the strike might present. Along the way, he dismissed two of the security companies, and needed to provide increased protection for a company executive.

"I spent the last week sleeping on the sofa of a higher-level person who had been threatened," he recalls. "After working in the command center all day, I would escort her home, sleep on her couch, then have someone escort her to work. I'd go home and take a shower and then go back into the com center."

Heading up security for a modern health care corporation, such as Kaiser's Colorado branch, calls for many different skills. This particular Colorado HMO has 25 locations spread across 1,600 square miles. To make the best use of limited resources demands a security director who is adept at multi-tasking and at using technology creatively.

"I'm over physical security and the electronic arena," says Karpovich. "Technology is a fort└ of mine. I spend more time on technology trying to improve our protection program than anything else."

Since assuming the director's job, he has spearheaded the company's investment in digital technology.

"We run the whole gamut, from card access to CCTV to Talk-a-Phones to emergency intercoms," he explains. "We monitor our own burglar alarm system, and covert surveillance is a large part of it. Technology is the largest part. Often I will do the installs myself, especially when it comes to covert projects. Then I have contractors who do some of the overt stuff, such as installing the alarms."

When he arrived, Kaiser had contracted its alarm monitoring to a large national firm. Despite the high fees they paid, he found they were getting relatively little service.

The alarm system is now monitored in-house from a security control center (SCC) located in a large building in downtown Denver. Karpovich is in the process of installing a CADDX Network NX-8 system supplied by Gladewater, Texas-based Interlogix.

"That not only reduces the monthly monitoring fee for the company, but it also gives us a more custom-tailored response," he reports. "Our people only handle our 25 locations and accounts, while the [outside security] company was handling thousands. So we were just a number. We've been able not only to save money, but also to improve the quality of response."

The access control system uses mag-stripe card access to all distribution rooms, coupled with anti-passback technology. Facilities are also monitored through CCTV, using digital recorders coupled with Pelco's Spectra II PTZ cameras with motion-detection capability.

The Kaiser facilities are also networked using the company's existing Ethernet.

"We have T1, 2, and 3 lines here in all our buildings," Karpovich says. "So we're already networked with a Wide Area Network. That piece was here when I got here. I've taken advantage of that infrastructure with digital video. It's an expensive proposition, but I'm putting digital video multiplexers in every location. When we get an alarm or report, rather than sending a patrolman ! who may be 30 minutes away ! we can just swing around at the security control center and bring up that camera."

When an alarm sounds, the control center personnel can view that door and determine what caused the alarm. Frequently, it may be an employee going out the wrong door. They are able to capture that incident on video and can then send the images to the employee's manager.

"Our [patients] don't typically steal from us. They're here to seek treatment and to make sure their health is maintained. Sometimes our members do act out because of emotional, mental or other frustrations."

Karpovich has also used camera technology, coupled with Talk-a-Phone emergency towers located outside the facilities, to provide an added measure of security.

"If we have an employee who can't use the buddy system going to her car after hours, she can call the SCC and get a video escort," he says. "When she leaves the building, the officer can follow her with video from the time she leaves the door all the way to her car. He can even turn on the blue light strobe remotely to signal to her that he saw her get in and make her feel more comfortable."

The security challenges of a health care facility are unique. Unlike as is the case at a mall, people don't want to be in a hospital. They are usually ill or they may be visiting friends or family members who are sick or undergoing surgery.

"They're anxiety-laden," explains Karpovich. "So we have to understand that dynamic and be sure we deal appropriately with the emotional or mental state the person might be in. If the same security officer approached that person in a shopping mall, they [might] have a different frame of mind than if their wife is having an operation and they're distraught. We always have to have that in the back of our minds."

While patients may sometimes turn violent, and attacks on medical personnel are, unfortunately, not uncommon, most other crimes are committed by the staff itself. A doctor may be taking controlled substances for his own use, or a pharmacy technician might be selling the drugs to which he has access.

"Our [patients] don't typically steal from us," he explains. "They're here to seek treatment and to make sure their health is maintained. Sometimes our members do act out because of emotional, mental or other frustrations."

In addition to protecting personnel and physical assets such as drugs and equipment, Karpovich is also involved in protecting one of Kaiser's most valuable assets ! patient information. With the passage of the Health Insurance Portability Accountability Act (HIPPA) and its privacy regulations, keeping data confidential has become vital.

"With every investigation, every incident report, and every interaction, we have to be careful not to disclose or leak in any way any individual's medical information," says Karpovich.

Karpovich brings a wealth of qualifications to his job. A longtime member of law enforcement ! he started with the campus police force while attending East Carolina University ! he entered hospital security in 1990. Karpovich was eventually recruited to run the Rocky Mountain Division of Healthcare Security Services, which included 75 locations and 430 offices. Three years ago, he became the first Kaiser security director in this region, and he holds a unique position both within Kaiser and the security industry itself. He is a contract employee through INTER-CON Healthcare Security Services Group, and although not technically a Kaiser employee, he nevertheless functions as its regional security director.

Karpovich has built his department with a strong commitment to professionalism. He holds the designation of CHPA (Certified Healthcare Protection Administrator) through the International Association for Healthcare Security and Safety, and a CPP (Certified Protection Professional) through the American Society for Industrial Security. He also earned the CFE (Certified Fraud Examiner) certification through the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners.

"I do so many things in this job that aren't readily apparent," says Karpovich. "I do the technical side. I'm a certified locksmith from way back. I understand electronics and electricity. I'm mechanically inclined, and I'm willing to roll up my sleeves. I know how to talk to vendors. I know how equipment works. You also have to have a human side. You have to be able to interact at all levels, from the lowest level in the employee status to doctors."

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