(Photo by Kevin J. Parks/Mercy Medical Center)
At Baltimore’s Mercy Medical Center, nurses have a special way of quelling tempers before a full-blown incident occurs. They call security, which at Mercy consists of two-member teams, and often just the presence of one of the team members – a German shepherd – serves as a calming influence.
"They have a nice presence," said Donna Disney, RN, BSN, CEN, Mercy’s clinical director for the ED. "Any time we have a situation that is escalating, the added presence of the dogs helps people get themselves together. They see it as another level of authority."
Although it’s a level that might offer a lick, over a reprimand. Mercy Medical Center is located in Baltimore’s inner city in a high-risk crime area, so the hospital began utilizing a K-9 unit in 1994 to help curb violence on the campus. Dogs and their handlers patrol parking lots and the hospital. Administrators think the dogs’ presence has had a profound effect.
"Our director goes to downtown meetings in Baltimore [with other hospital administrators] and they share crime statistics," said Mark Ross, captain of Mercy’s K-9 Unit. "It’s well-known within the city that Mercy has dogs and it’s not a place to go for crime."
Ross and four other handlers have their dogs with them at work and at home. The dogs are imported from Europe and trained for protection and to hunt human and explosive odors. Ross, who has partnered for two years with Iko, said the dogs can track someone on the campus, find explosive devices and protect hospital personnel. Working in a hospital requires the dogs to be more sociable than other police dogs. The Mercy dogs must have the ability to be friendly one minute and ready for business the next. "It makes it a little more tricky when it comes to selecting a dog for this environment," Ross said. "The dogs are tempered because they have to be sociable. They also have to have the ability to work or apprehend on command."
The dogs at Mercy develop friendships with nurses and patients and are able to enjoy some attention.
"The staff loves them," said Janet Norman, RN, MS, PCCN, nurse manager, progressive care unit. "When they are training a younger dog, a guard may say, 'You can’t come close to this one.’ The older dogs, you can talk to them and pet them."
There is time for pleasure, but during most of the 10-hour shifts, the handlers’ and dogs’ time is for work.
"There is an added sense of protection here," Norman said. "We had a disturbance once and a family had become so angry. I’m not sure it was directed at us, but it was very frightening. Security came up with the dog and everyone quieted down. There was no feeling that there would be any harm to anyone."
Handlers and dogs also may walk nurses to their cars in the parking lot. "It gives us peace of mind," Disney said. "It’s interesting the effect when you have a really busy waiting room. The dogs have a tendency to calm everybody down. It’s a distraction as much as anything, (to) watch the dog for a minute. We joke and call them our favorite security officers."
And like any smart dog, the Mercy K-9 dogs remember where their friends are when making the rounds. "We have a couple nurses who sneak biscuits for them," Disney said. "They know where those nurses work and go right to them."
Joe Stevenson is a freelance writer.
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