Hospital liaisons offer a friendly face and critical information during emergencies

By Pam Gorsuch on March 16, 2017

New TU program is the first in Maryland to provide liaisons between the university, hospitals and loved ones in an emergency.

Emergencies create confusion, and that confusion is amplified in emergencies with multiple victims. The injured are typically spread out among area hospitals, the hospital staff gets busy focusing on patient care, and family members scramble to find out where loved ones are and how they’re doing. 

To ease the confusion, TU’s Office of Public Safety is training 24 hospital liaisons to improve communication and patient tracking during emergencies. If an emergency strikes, the liaisons—all TU employees who live in the area—will be dispatched to local hospitals. There, they will record the arrivals and conditions of patients on electronic tracking forms that will automatically route the information to TU’s emergency operations center. The liaisons will assist hospital personnel in finding emergency contact information for patients and will interface with loved ones arriving at the hospitals, providing information and support. 

“The liaisons will be our boots on the ground,” said TU Director of Access Control Roger Sheets, a former security director at area hospitals who is helping to build the program. “They will keep the command center informed, and in turn, the command center will track whether family has been notified, share information with the administration, and provide updates to the media.”

The program is believed to be the first of its kind in Maryland, and it has the support of the Maryland Hospital Association. It includes all 32 area hospitals that receive trauma patients, with liaisons designated to specific hospitals based on their geographic proximity. As part of their training, liaisons will visit their designated hospital to familiarize themselves with the facility’s layout and connect with the emergency room staff who would be their contacts during an emergency. They’ll also be trained on how to adhere to HIPAA and FERPA regulations as well as proper response protocols.

“During any emergency event, having access to up-to-date information on our patients is critical to ensuring we are able to care for them as quickly and safely as possible,” said Bob Wojtek, director of security, parking and emergency preparedness at the University of Maryland St. Joseph Medical Center. “This partnership will not only help us but also give family members a way to quickly locate their loved ones. Our goal is to make reunification as simple as possible for the families in the event of a multiple-injury incident.”

The seeds for the hospital liaison program were planted a few years ago following a TU football game. It was an unseasonably hot day, and several people suffered heat exhaustion. As on-site staff coordinated transports to local hospitals, TU Police Chief and Associate Vice President for Public Safety Bernie Gerst saw a need for improvement.

“I pulled out a notebook and starting writing down the students’ names, status and hospital destination,” Bernie said. “But then some of the ambulances were re-routed to different hospitals. I thought, ‘we need a better way.’”

Gerst wasn't alone. Experts in the FBI and Maryland Health Department have noticed a gap in victim tracking and are focusing on it as a way to reduce confusion during emergencies. The TUPD recently shared the program with an FBI victim services representative, who expressed interest in modeling the program in other areas of the country.

The hospital liaison program is part of the university’s emergency preparedness initiatives, which include emergency text alerts, training on civilian response to active shooter events, external and internal siren & public address systems, desktop alerts, a family assistance center, and an emergency resources guide with recommended procedures for responding to emergencies.

This story is one of several related to President Kim Schatzel's priorities for Towson University: Strategic Plan Alignment.