COLUMBUS— Columbus Regional Hospital is getting its own police force.
The announcement of a new police department comes after two years of WRTV Investigates asking questions about ghost employment involving Columbus police officers working security at the hospital.
However, the health system maintains the shift has nothing to do with ghost employment or an ongoing investigation by Indiana State Police into the Columbus Police Department.
Columbus Regional Health is registered for 225 beds and has a network of 25 primary and specialty care offices.
The hospital serves a 10-county area, and the health system has 225 medical staff members, 2200 employees and 250 volunteers.
Kelsey DeClue, Public Relations Coordinator for Columbus Regional Health, said hospitals can be a dangerous place for patients and staff.
"One of the trends are seeing is violence or threats against healthcare personnel, just continued heightened situations where violence could be possible,” said DeClue. “That's what we have been seeing over the past few years. It can be a very stressful environment and it can be a very confusing environment."
Columbus Regional Hospital is getting its own police force, which will have eight certified police officers who have been through the state police academy.
Current CRH manager of protective services and emergency services Anthony Pope will serve as the first police chief.
"Then we will have non-police officer staff members that could be available certain situations that don't require that full law enforcement approach," said DeClue. “Currently we have 12 staff members. They are equipped with training to de-escalate situations and look for suspicious activity around our campuses.”
On December 23, 2020, former Columbus Police officers Daniel Meister and Ronald May pleaded guilty to ghost employment after Indiana State Police found they worked security at Columbus Regional Hospital while they were on the clock for the city.
The hospital terminated Meister and May, both contracted employees, in November 2018.
Taxpayers told WRTV they’re concerned about Columbus Police officers having second and third jobs that could conflict with their police duties.
"Additional policies and procedures should be put in place,” said Columbus taxpayer and father Dave Jones. “It needs to be locked down. You need to be on the job."
WRTV Investigates has learned Indiana State Police is now conducting another criminal investigation into whether additional police officers also had overlapping shifts at the hospital.
The investigation is still ongoing.
WRTV Investigates Kara Kenney: “Can you explain what role did that play in CRH getting its own police force?
Kelsey DeClue: “It had nothing to do with our decision to become our own health police department. The planning and preparation for that was underway prior to this current investigation as it stands. They're completely separate entities. We request our local law enforcement for support and then all of that is completely up to the individual officer to set up their time. We send a schedule where there are individual timeslots to fill. It’s up to the officer to say yes, I’m available at that time. It’s just as simple as that.”
WRTV Investigates Kara Kenney: “All the scrutiny that the city and CRH has faced for ghost employment-you're saying the new police force does not have anything to do with that."
Kelsey DeClue: "They're not related because we did not make the decision to engage in a process to become our own police force based on these allegations and the incidents that took place. They are connected by coincidental timing only. It just takes a lot of work to get a lot of preplanning to get to that. We want to make sure it’s the right thing for our health system. That work had started. These unfortunate incidents took place and are completely unrelated. "
Columbus Regional Health is taking both internal and outside applicants for its new police force.
Officers who have already been through the academy will get healthcare specific training.
It’s something many large hospital systems are already doing, but a change Columbus Regional Health says is needed to better protect its patients and staff.
In terms of timeline, the healthcare system hopes to have the new police force trained and fully up and running by the end of the year.
Lt. Matthew Harris with Columbus Police declined to comment to WRTV about the changes, and Bartholomew County Sheriff Matt Myers has not yet responded.