May 19, 2021

New policy outlines how patients’ belongings, valuables are handled

VUMC is in the process of implementing a new policy governing how the institution handles patients’ belongings and valuables.

VUMC is in the process of implementing a new policy governing how the institution handles patients’ belongings and valuables.

Karen Anne Pittman with some of the unclaimed property that patients have left behind at VUMC’s hospitals and clinics.
Karen Anne Pittman with some of the unclaimed property that patients have left behind at VUMC’s hospitals and clinics. (photo by Erin O. Smith)

The new policy will replace a patchwork of practices and policies previously in place across various VUMC departments, locations and entities.

“This should significantly reduce our unclaimed property,” said Karen Anne Pittman, director of Finance and Administration, one of the leaders of a 25-member team that has discussed and written the new policy.

The team consisted of representatives from many VUMC entities, including all hospitals, surgery centers, clinics, the pharmacy, Decedent Affairs, Admitting, Tax and other areas.

Also, to be clear, unclaimed patient property is not the same thing as lost and found, in which property is turned in and there is no information about its owner. Unclaimed property, in contrast, is property for whom an owner is identified, but the owner has not claimed the property after being discharged from the facility.

Here, in general outline, is how the new policy will work:

Patients’ personal property will be classified in one of three categories: valuables, belongings and contraband.

  • Valuables are items such as cash, jewelry and watches. Patients who are accompanied by a family member or other trusted person will be encouraged to give such items to that person; otherwise, the valuables will be secured until the patient leaves the facility. The patient’s valuables will be electronically inventoried in eStar (replacing the paper property logs used today) and placed in a tamper-resistant bag. The bag will then be photographed using the Haiku app and the picture uploaded to the patient’s record in eStar. At this point in the process the property bag will be secured.
  • Belongings are items such as clothing, eyeglasses, dentures and cellphones that the patient will likely want to have with them during their stay. Keeping track of the items remains the responsibility of the patient.
  • Contraband items include weapons or illegal drugs. These items will continue to be provided to VUPD or the facility-specific Security Team.

When the patient is discharged, information on the After Visit Summary report will alert staff that the patient has valuables to retrieve before they leave the facility.

This same information is noted on the Transport Request, alerting the individual transporting the patient to stop by the location where their valuables are secured to pick up their property before leaving, making it less likely that a patient will leave their property behind.

If it turns out that a patient does leave without picking up unclaimed property, the new policy calls for a follow-up letter to the patient’s home.

Pittman knows a lot about VUMC’s unclaimed property. Part of the work of the task force writing the new policy was to deal with the current backlog of unclaimed property, some of which dates back to 2007.

Under the earlier policy, the one being superseded by the new one about to take effect, there was little guidance that clearly classified property as either valuables or belongings — most items were accepted, logged on a paper form, bagged and put in a safe to await their owner’s return.

Many times, owners, for whatever reason, never returned to claim property. “We ended up with many items not returned to patients,” Pittman said, which is how, among some 2,500 items of unclaimed property in the custody of VUMC, the majority of items are of extremely low value, such as:

  • A bandana, which VUMC has held pending its owner’s return since 2007
  • A Canadian 25 cent coin, and another bag containing 22 cents
  • A key to a John Deere tractor

There are also a few items that would appear to have some possible value, such as:

  • Rings and necklaces
  • Watches
  • Mouth and body jewelry, including, Pittman noted, many belly-button rings

And then there are the unusual and the puzzling:

  • Ten sets of keys
  • A bag containing, according to the log, “two counterfeit bills”
  • An item logged as a “gas detector” — possibly a carbon monoxide detector, although what somebody was doing carrying one around remains a mystery

The new policy provides clear directions that anything unclaimed after 180 days will be listed with the state. Anything not required to be remitted by the state will be sold and the funds donated to a charity unrelated to VUMC.

Training for the new policy began in late April, and the policy took effect May 18. It is available in PolicyTech.

The policy also contains multiple facility-specific and area-specific SOPs (Standard Operating Procedures) for staff to follow.