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Hospital Struggles in Effort to Offer Adequate Security : Protection: While employees complain of dangers, County-USC has been unable to fill its quota of Safety Police officers. And recently installed security doors cannot be used because they violate fire codes.


Despite constant pleas from nurses and doctors for protection, Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center has been unable to fill about 20% of its allotted security force, records show.

Los Angeles County officials also said that new security doors had been installed at the medical center, but that many of them are not operational because fire inspectors found they violated safety codes.

Nurses, physicians and labor representatives for county health workers said Monday's shooting of three doctors at the medical center proves that security measures were inadequate and that public health employees continue to face dangerous working conditions.

Officials at the county's Office of Security Management said there was a shortage of Safety Police officers at various county agencies--including the medical center--because of difficulties in recruiting.

County records show that 84 security officers are authorized for the hospital but only 71 had been hired as of December.

Safety police are sworn officers who receive training similar to sheriff's deputies, although they only work inside and near county facilities.

Ted Holland, head of security at the hospital, said he has tried to compensate for staffing shortages with additional overtime, but this has increased stress among his officers. He has also noticed a recent increase in sick days among security officers, Holland said.

"It's very difficult on them," Holland said of the problems his officers face. "We've gotten very close to having major difficulties."

Holland said recently installed security measures include additional lighting in parking areas, surveillance cameras and more guns for security officers. He said three Saftey Police officers were assigned to the emergency room area at the time of Monday's shooting of three doctors.

One officer was posted inside the emergency room, while two others were just outside. Holland said the officer assigned to the emergency room was far from the site of the shooting, which occurred in a remote area reserved for walk-in patients not in critical condition.

County officials did not post a guard in that area because it was "not seen as necessary up to this point," Holland said.

Kathryn Barger, health deputy to Supervisor Mike Antonovich, said she was not surprised about the continuing shortage of security personnel at the hospital.

"Is it ever going to be enough? No," she said. "If I were a nurse, I'd want a guard by me 24 hours a day."

The county Board of Supervisors allocated $1.1 million in 1991 for new security measures throughout the overcrowded and tense hospital system. It could not be determined how much of that money was earmarked for the hospital.

Bob McCloskey, an official with Service Employees International Union, Local 660, which represents many county nurses, said there are continual security problems.

"There's been attacks, physical assaults, verbal abuse and spitting," McCloskey said. "There is an aura of tension because of the long waits."

The Safety Police recently established a 24-hour post at the hospital's emergency room, officials said, but there were no metal detectors. The only metal detectors are in the hospital's psychiatric unit.

Hospital spokesman Harvey D. Kern said that safety measures have improved in recent years. Moreover, visiting hours have been shortened as a security precaution, he said.

McCloskey said the health department had installed safety doors in the emergency room and elsewhere in the hospital.

"They spent all this money on new, high-tech hardware that they can't even use because of Fire Department regulations," McCloskey said.

The doors made it too difficult to get out of the building, officials said.

Some members of the County-USC medical staff complained that security concerns have suffered because of annual budget battles. As the funding for county hospitals has diminished, "safety for personnel has been a low priority," Dr. Paul Wallace said.

Safety was a contract issue in 1991 labor negotiations, Wallace said. Dwindling funds and increasing danger have forced such choices as whether money should be spent "on an EKG machine to monitor someone's heart to whether we'll have a security guard," he said.

"Personnel who work in hospitals in dangerous zones should not have to sacrifice their lives. . . . They're already overworked and understaffed, and to have them put their lives on the line is really asking too much," Wallace said.

Times staff writer Scott Harris contributed to this story.

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