South Puget Sound K9 team coming soon

May 1, 2023 Chris Thomas

Team has been chosen to help increase patient, caregiver, and visitor safety.

We are thrilled to announce that coming this summer South Puget Sound will welcome Echo, a four-legged caregiver to its Security team and his amazing handler officer Delaney Van Ness. The team is still completing training and an official start date will be set soon (likely early June ). We’ll have an all-South Puget Sound Virtual Town Hall to introduce the team and a chance to meet Echo in person “off duty.”

We believe everyone deserves to feel safe, protected, and valued while at work, that is why South Puget Sound is joining many other Providence services areas by bringing in a K9 team to our ministries. Delaney and Echo will serve at St. Peter and Centralia hospitals and visit Providence clinics.

About the K9 Program

As most of you know, in healthcare facilities, aggressive behavior is commonplace. According to U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics, healthcare workers are five times more likely to experience workplace violence than workers in all other industries. During moments like these it is important to find ways to de-escalate, calm patients and visitors.

The K9 program goal is to provide a calming presence de-escalate intense situations. We believe the presence of K9 Echo may be enough to make an angry or agitated person calm down, preventing conflict and aggressive behavior against caregivers.

We have seen the success of similar K9 programs at other hospitals across Providence and Swedish. Both Spokane and Alaska have seen a 20% drop in workplace violence.

A program of the future  

This program was made possible through the support of the Southwest Washington Foundation, which funded its startup, along with collaborations of ED caregivers, SEIU representatives, the Office of Health Equity Diversity and Inclusion (OHEDI), and Security teams. We believe our K9 will be a huge deterrent and help protect you, our patients, and the communities we serve.

Although hospitals have employed security dogs for decades, these programs often have a reputation for inequality and injustice. We have been working with OHEDI in acknowledgment of this to ensure our program is built upon our values – including justice, excellence, dignity, and safety – and designed through a lens of equity and collaboration. 
Thank you to everyone who played a role in building this program – it was a team effort. Your unwavering support and advocacy for innovative workplace violence solutions is making a big difference in providing a safer work environment.    
 For more information about this new K9 unit, please see the FAQs below.


Providence South Puget Sound K9 program: Frequently Asked Questions

Why is Providence South Puget Sound adding a K9 to the security team?
 Unfortunately, health care workers are exposed to violence more than any other profession. The addition of a K9 is meant to help provide a calming presence, de-escalate tense situations, and provide a self-defense option to protect patients, visitors, and caregivers in the event of a violent situation at the hospital. In a situation with escalating tension, the K9s provide another level of authority for security staff. They will always be on a leash and under the control of their handler.

Why is the K9 needed? 
 Any number of caregivers harmed is too high. Our hope is that the addition of a K9 unit will help improve caregiver, patient, and visitor safety.

How common are hospital K9 units?
 An increasing number of hospitals have begun using K9 units as a de-escalation tool. A 2014 study by the International Healthcare Security Safety Foundation found that hospitals with K9 units had a lower risk of violence compared to those without. Currently, 14% of hospitals in the U.S. have K9 units.

We have seen the success of similar K9 programs at other hospitals across Providence. Both Spokane and Alaska have seen a 30% drop in workplace violence. In more than 400 deployments at Providence in Spokane, not once has a dog been required to physically engage. Instead, the dog’s presence helped to de-escalate the situation.

In what part of the hospitals will the K9 be used?
 The K9 unit is available to provide support in any part of the hospital; the K9 will be seen most often in the ED.

Where will the K9 live when not on duty?
 The K9 will be housed and cared for by its handler.

How safe will the K9 be; can caregivers pet them?
 The K9 will always be on a leash and under control of their handler. Although K9s are friendly, caregivers should always ask the K9 handler before attempting to pet the K9.

What is the breed?
 Our new K9 is German Shepherd.

Why are they working in the EDs?
 Unfortunately, the highest incidence of workplace violence across our service area occurs in the ED. 

What is the definition of a crime?
 An action that constitutes an offense that may be prosecuted by the state and is punishable by law. The handler of the K9 will make the decision to introduce the K9 with the intent to deescalate an incident or crime.

Will the K9 have a muzzle on?
No. K9s are tested for aggression as part of the vetting process. The K9 we are getting tested low with aggression which makes them a perfect fit for detection and socializing and working in the hospital setting.

What are the risks that your dog may not obey you?
 The dog is always on leash and always under control of the handler.

What are the commands that you give the dog?
We don’t share our commands as that could compromise our security.

What happens if someone else issues a command?
 The dog is very attentive to the handler based on extensive hours of training. The dog is trained to take commands only from the handler when working.

What are the infection control issues related to a dog?
 We are aware that some people have allergies to animals. If needed, we will address that concern directly by ensuring that the dog doesn’t interact with that person. In addition, the K9 is bathed regularly and receive high-quality veterinarian care to ensure their health and good condition of their coat and skin.

Are other dogs allowed on your campus?
 Only certified service animals are permissible in our facilities.

What happens when the dog has to go the bathroom? When/where does the dog eat? 
 The dog relieves himself in designated outside locations. When at work and not with the handler, the dog is crated. The dog eats and takes breaks as any security personnel do.

How many hours does the dog work? Does he get any breaks?
Dog and handler will work 40-hour weeks. The dog and handler will work in our facilities 32-hours in an addition to a mandatory 8-hour training day to make sure they are always ready to serve and protect our environment.  

What does the dog do when it’s not working? 
 The dog goes home each shift with its handler. 

Will the handlers be educated by OHEDI?
Yes. We are working with OHEDI to train the dog handler to be culturally aware and sensitive to the historical implications of dogs as a deterrent to violence being associated with people of color. We also welcome caregivers’ comments and concerns to be directed to leadership and OHEDI. Providence Swedish is extremely sensitive and aware of these implications and are taking these concerns seriously in ensuring the handlers are appropriately trained to work with caregivers, key stakeholders, and members of our community in a manner that respects this history.

What other steps are being taken to improve safety?
 This is just one of the programs to reduce workplace violence. We are actively working on more initiatives. Our South Puget Sound Safety Committee is looking for interested members. If interested or have questions, please contact:

  • Providence Centralia Hospital:  John Capen, Co-chair 
  • Providence St. Peter Hospital: Jill Murphy, Co-chair, or Ericka Rhoden, Co-chair,

Why are health care workers more at risk for workplace violence?
 We know from national statistics that health care workers are exposed to violence more than any profession outside law enforcement. This may be attributed to the growing number of patients we see with mental health and/or addiction issues. We also know from experience that health care issues add stress to families, and everyone reacts differently to these types of circumstances.

Will the K9 unit be replacing all security programs?
 No. The K9 unit is just part of the Security team. Our team works 24/7/365, responding to calls to protect patients, visitors, and caregivers at our hospitals and clinics.

Please note: The K9 and handler have a special bond. If someone ever tried to attack the handler, the K9 will be protective and defend the handler as that’s the instinct of a dog and its owner.

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