City BOC Undecided on Providing Police Protection at Hospital

Toccoa City Commissioners say a proposed agreement to provide police protection to Stephens County Hospital needs more work.

At their work session Monday, Toccoa City Commissioners heard from City Manager Billy Morse who went over the agreement proposed by hospital officials.

“The hospital will pay the City $35/per hour worked by each officer. In turn, the City will pay the officer $30/hr. The balance will help cover the City’s administrative costs,” Morse began. “The City will prepare the work schedule. The City will provide worker’s compensation benefits. The qualifications for the job are equal to a police officer, but the duties are typical of a security guard. The officers will be considered independent contractors paid by the City.”

Hospital officials approached the City about the use of officers after a recent altercation in the ER in which an unruly visitor disrupted hospital staff and had to be subdued by police.

However, Commissioner Jeanette Jamieson told the Board she believed the contract, as drawn up, was not fair either to the officers or the City.

“To begin with, when an employee receives a 1099, they have to pay both parts of their Social Security,” she explained. “Even though they may agree based on wha tthe Chief tells them to do, it’s grossly unfair. I understand that we need to help the hospital. If they choose to contract or work for the hospital on their days off, they become a hospital employee. They’re subject to the hospital’s workman’s comp policy. If they agree to do a 1099 strictly with the hospital that takes the City out of it. We are not liable for what happens while they are out there.”

Police Chief Jimmy Mize said he had officers who wanted to work at the hospital as independent contractors, but he said any security work officers did at the hospital would be on their own time and would be considered outside employment.

Other issues brought up by the Commission included City liability and tax issues.

Several Board members questioned whether the Hospital should instead go with a Security Guard company.

However, Stephens County Hospital CEO Michael Hester told the Board there are good reasons why a police officer is needed rather than hiring a security guard; mainly he said the rising drug epidemic is causing more incidents, making hospital staff feel unsafe.

“I think what’s escalated it, particularly over the past five years across the board nationally is we have such a drug epidemic, number one. Number two, the mental health issue is just growing day by day, it seems like,” Hester explained. “We did an employee evaluation of their concerns and  of course, security is still one of their big concerns. We could definitely contract with a cheap security service to come here, but I don’t think it would have the same impact both from a protection standpoint and from the staff feeling comfortable with it.”

Hester pointed out many major hospital systems in Georgia employ local police officers rather than security guards.

Mayor Gail Fry asked Hester to provide a list of those hospitals for the Board to research.

No decision was made and the request was tabled pending further discussion and research.