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Someone to Watch Over Me

  • Category: Blog, News, Pulse
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  • Written By: Dwain Hebda
Someone to Watch Over Me

Baxter Health Security provides an essential role

In late July 2021, a call came into the Baxter Health Security Department about an imminent threat headed its way. A visibly upset Gassville man was armed and making his way from the parking lot to the Cline Emergency Center.

It was a situation no one in the department ever wanted to have to deal with but precisely the kind of threat they’d trained for.

“He was stating that he was going to go out with a bang and try to take as many people with him as he could,” said Officer Josh Fletcher who with fellow Officer Armando Delgado was first on the scene. “We ran out there and he was walking toward us with an AR-15 rifle and he had a full tactical vest on. When we drew our firearms, he saw us and then that’s when he realized this was about to be a bad day for him. He retreated, thankfully.”

Fletcher offered a wry chuckle at the memory, then added “That was an exciting experience, to say the least.”

Mountain Home’s serene setting and small-town vibe belies the fact that it’s subject to the same challenges as any other community, especially when it comes to crime and a culture that at its worst has become progressively more predisposed to violence. Throw in the stress of illness or injury or the influence of pharmaceuticals, and patient interactions can turn in an instant.

“Our job is to ensure the safety and security of the hospital,” said Mike Armstrong, Director of Security. “We deal with everything from people waking up from anesthesia and being confused to dealing with drug- and alcohol-related matters to behavioral health issues. We’ve had some incidents where we actually had credible threats to the hospital that had to be dealt with.

“We go all the way from being able to talk people out of having a bad attitude to dealing with the worst possible lethal threat.”

Armstrong, who has been in his role for 15 years, has led the department through major changes, including upgrades in technology, expansion of the staff and most notably a general level of professionalism alongside other areas of operations.

“When I started here, the security department had been having some issues where the reputation within the organization was not where it needed to be,” he said. “Officers were routinely being used to move furniture, they were being used to deliver cookie dough if somebody in the hospital had a kid who sold cookie dough. It was not things that security should have been used for.

“The first thing I did was allow officers the opportunity to say no in order to focus on the actual safety and security of the hospital instead of being used as a utility for convenience by the hospital. The administration has been very supportive in that.”

From there, Armstrong set about improving the skills of the officers themselves through routine and specialized training and improving visibility throughout the property through proper daily deployment. Taking security officers out of their professional silos paid several strategic dividends including forging stronger bonds of teamwork with other employees, Armstrong said.

“For years and years, we kind of maintained a low-profile presence,” he said. “We changed that when we became a commissioned department because the first item on the use of force continuum is uniform presence; you need to be seen. There is a certain deterrence factor to having uniformed officers on foot patrol, having a marked unit that patrols outside of the hospital. It makes people feel better. It’s also a notification to people that want to do something wrong that there is a plan in place to deal with that.”

One of the more noticeable changes that has come on Armstrong’s watch has been arming officers. Baxter Health was the first non-university hospital in the state to arm its security department. Each carries a sidearm with additional firepower on premises for use as needed.

Fletcher said during his time with Baxter, incidents have presented themselves where officers would have been in mortal danger had they not been able to draw a weapon, the intended shooter being just one. Instead, he’s never had to discharge his weapon, though he has come close.

“My first experience drawing my firearm on somebody was when a guy was fleeing police and he intentionally drove his car through the front of the hospital,” he said. “He had made a last stand, already tried to kill two or three cops by running them over and when he came through the front of the hospital, there was an elderly lady that had fallen in front of the vehicle. When he hit the wall, it kind of jarred him and he stopped for a moment. I had drawn my firearm on him.

“He looked at me, and he started to roll forward. She had frozen, so I had to tell her to get out of the way. I actually had a little bit of tension on the trigger on that one. At that point, another officer came up through the window behind him. That was the closest I’ve ever come to firing my gun, and that’s the moment I realized I never wanted to take a life but that I would.”

Such episodes, happily, have been few and far between. Most of the time, officers rely on their training in de-escalation techniques, including talking down situations and applying physical restraint that minimizes the chance of injury.

“We deal with a lot of suicide ideation individuals who are coming in looking for help. Sometimes they get here and they say, ’I don’t want to be here,’” said Officer Jay Nichols. “A lot of times, we deal with intoxicated individuals, whether it be drugs or alcohol. They’re not thinking clearly, and sometimes they act out and pose a security issue to staff and other patients. We get called to step in and help try to calm them down and redirect them.

“We also deal with two different psych floors. Again, they’re not at their best. They’re withdrawing, so we’ve got to bridge that gap and try to calm them down while keeping them safe and keeping the staff safe.”

Nichols said he has noticed better team interaction between the security department and various patient-facing personnel. This makes everyone’s job easier, he said.

“We get to know the staff, which keeps that dialogue open so that they feel comfortable coming to us if they see a potential issue, and vice versa so we can work as a team,” he said. “All the officers try to keep our lines of communication open — talking to them when they have a down minute, having a joke, to where it’s time to get serious and this is what we need to do — just not being closed off to where the staff doesn’t feel like they can come talk to us. That’s what Baxter Health is all about, family and team.”

This feature appeared in the Fall 2023 issue of Pulse Magazine. To view the entire issue, visit