April 29, 2020

Adult Hospital adds K-9 unit for patient, staff, visitor safety

Two Drug Detection Canines (DDC) are now reporting for duty in the halls and units of the Vanderbilt University Adult Hospital (VUAH).

VUPD Sgt. Eddie Lawler and Akali (pictured) are members of VUMC’s new K-9 unit, along with Sgt. Joe Musick and Kato. (photo by Donn Jones)

Two Drug Detection Canines (DDC) are now reporting for duty in the halls and units of the Vanderbilt University Adult Hospital (VUAH).

As the first K-9 team in a Nashville hospital, Kato and Akali, both German shepherds from the Netherlands, and their partners, Vanderbilt University Police Department Sgt. Joe Musick and Sgt. Eddie Lawler, will provide additional safety and security for patients, staff and visitors.

“These DDC are considered working dogs and with that they should not be petted or handled,” said Capt. Michael Pring, Medical Center Community Relations and Crime Prevention, VUPD. “A lot of time and training goes on to ensure that these dogs perform at a very high level and that they maintain a high level of drive to detect illicit narcotics when working, and any activity that could distract them from that purpose should be avoided.”

The new unit will help with two ongoing initiatives at Vanderbilt University Medical Center: decreasing the misuse of opioids and decreasing violence in the workplace.

Current statistics from the National Institute on Drug Abuse lists Tennessee as the third highest ranking state for opioid prescriptions and fourth in overdose deaths.

The canines are trained to detect and alert on methamphetamines, cocaine and heroin, their precursors and derivatives.

“With the DDC we will be able to provide a higher level of safety within the hospital by detecting and removing illicit narcotics before they pose a significant harm to our staff and the patients themselves,” Pring said. “The presence of the DDC alone should deter some criminal behavior that quite often elevates to a verbal and sometimes physical confrontation.”

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, health care workers are four times more likely than private industry employees to experience workplace violence.

“We know that the presence of a canine unit dog decreases violent events and also creates a sense of security for staff and faculty,” said Robin Steaban, MSN, RN, Chief Nursing Officer for Vanderbilt University Hospital and Clinics. “Canine units effectively de-escalate highly charged situations so the patient/family, and staff and faculty relationships can return to a therapeutic relationship.”

“The collaborative efforts amongst VUMC leadership and VUPD to implement this program have clearly demonstrated the efforts being taken to provide an environment of safety where staff are able to provide lifesaving care to this community,” said Charles DeFrance Jr., director of Safety and Security for VUMC. “Just as they are there to take care of us when we need it the most, we want to ensure we are taking care of them.”

Kato and Akali are considered VUMC employees and will work 10-hour shifts during the evening hours and on the weekends. They will be stationed mainly in the adult Emergency Department and trauma unit but will patrol throughout VUAH.