The gentleman was sitting down on a bench in one of the hospital lobbies, looking out of sorts, tightly gripping what looked like a carpet cutter in his hand when security guard Ricardo Hernandez reached him. He approached slowly and chatted to the man for several minutes before asking him to hand it over. The gentleman accepted the request.
Hernandez, 49, is a security officer at Michael Garron Hospital in East York. The hospital, which is formerly known as Toronto East General Hospital, has been serving the community for nearly 90 years. He’s worked at the hospital for the last 17 of them.
“(You) never know what’s happening with people unless you open your mouth, introduce yourself, you speak to them and then you know what’s happening,” he says. “One thing we try not to do around here is judge people.”
As a father of three, Hernandez understands the dangers of hospital security work, particularly when he’s working night shifts for two weeks each month.
Indeed, a CityNews exclusive in 2016 reported that violence in GTA hospitals was on the rise. At that time, CityNews found 112 “code whites” at St. Michael’s Hospital, 206 at St. Joseph’s Health Centre and 119 at Toronto General Hospital. Code white is describing a violent/behavioural situation.
Michael Garron Hospital was not included in the research, but the institution’s 2017-18 report noted that the facility had more than 79,000 emergency visits, over 19,000 inpatient stays/visits and over 264,000 outsider visits in that time. In comparison, Hernandez says the hospital-hired security staff for a day or night shift consists of only around four guards. Further security comes from outside law enforcement.
His children know that his job is risky.
“(My kids) would think that I wouldn’t come home,” says Hernandez.
Hernandez’s eldest son Dekembe is 26, Marcus is 12 and his youngest son, Isaac, is 11.
“That scares them because when you’re somebody’s anchor, that’s the way they look at you, you know?” he says. “Who are they going to fall back on?”
Hernandez’s colleague, Nigel Fingal, 30, has been working at the hospital for the last eight years. He agreed that it’s especially important not to judge people during night shifts.
“I would say individuals coming into the hospital on a night shift have a higher possibility of being under the influence of, let’s say, drugs or alcohol,” says Fingal.
Friday and Saturday nights are particularly tough, he said.
Each night, four guards patrol the entire hospital. Fingal says Hernandez is the father figure for the rest of the battalion.
“I thought I knew everything,” Fingal says, laughing. “Rick went out of his way to kind of show me that I didn’t.”
Fingal recalls a specific scenario where a violent male required restraining after becoming a threat to their own safety and the safety of others. Once he restrained one side of the individual, he would reach over to the other. Each time he did, it resulted in a vicious bite. After reaching over and being bitten multiple times, Hernandez stopped Fingal and asked him to reflect on his mistakes.
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“That scares them because when you’re somebody’s anchor, that’s the way they look at you, you know? … Who are they going to fall back on?”
That’s the same motto Hernandez preaches at home, where he takes pride in being a good role model for his two youngest children.
“I think it’s important that young men have a father in their lives because those are your role models,” he says. “Great mothers are for nurturing, but you also need a dad who keeps you in line.”
Hernandez grew up without a dad after his father left Trinidad and Tobago for Canada when he was around three or four years old. Then Hernandez landed in Canada when he was 18 in hopes of reconnecting with his father but the two couldn’t reconcile their relationship. In light of his own upbringing, he takes every moment he can to build a positive relationship with his children.
“You should be able to see your parents working hard,” he says. “Your dad being loving to your mother and your sister (being) loving to you and your mother being loving to your father.”
That’s why Hernandez advises every young man he meets to wait until your mature enough and know yourself before taking on the enormous responsibility of parenting a child. Hernandez made that same mistake when he left his 9 month old son, Dekembe when he was 24, after disputes with the boy’s mother.
“I’ve apologized to him on many occasions,” he says. “I communicate back and forth too, but not as much as I would like to, but I try to let him live his life.”
“But it was important never to make that mistake again.”
Working at the hospital constantly reminds him about the importance of maintaining a positive relationship with his kids.
“We have young people coming (in) overdosed, dying and young people coming in (that) don’t have that relationship (with their parents),” says Hernandez. “So to me, I try to keep it that way so my kids know that I’m there for them.”
“Come and talk to me whenever.”
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