K-9 unit helps keep Maury Regional safe 24/7


COLUMBIA, Tenn. — As the second health care facility and first rural hospital in Tennessee to implement a K-9 unit, Maury Regional Medical Center (MRMC) has become a model for other hospitals in the state.

The K-9 unit is an important component of the MRMC Security Department, which consists of 18 total security officers. Working in unison, the entire group patrols Maury Regional Health’s buildings and properties in Columbia to ensure a safe environment for all patients, staff and visitors.

“The primary goal of the K-9 unit is to help deescalate tense situations, allowing staff and visitors to feel more comfortable and at ease when the dogs are present,” Administrative Director of Safety, Security and Environmental Services Mike Short said. “While the dogs help to contribute to a safer campus overall, we wanted to ensure they were personable: able to connect with and make people more comfortable when they are at the hospital. That can often mean stopping at nursing units to say hello to staff or brightening the day of a patient with a quick visit.”

MRMC’s K-9 unit started in 2019 with Belgian Malinois brothers Max and Milo and their respective handlers security officers Scott Nations and John Holland. In 2021, Maverick, a Dutch shepherd, and Merlin, a Belgian Malinois, joined the unit along with their respective handlers security officers Chris Lovett and James Hill.

Adding Maverick and Merlin to the team made it possible for a security K-9 to be available at the medical center 24/7.

“Our job is to make things safer for our patients, visitors and staff,” said Nations, the K-9 unit supervisor for the organization. “People often seem surprised to see one of the dogs walking down the hall, but their presence can provide reassurance and bring a sense of safety to those we encounter.” 

Prior to beginning work at MRMC, all K-9s and their handlers attend an intensive obedience and training program at Ventosa K9 Kennel in North Carolina, with a special emphasis on training for the unique needs of a health care environment. In addition to being skilled at deescalating tense situations, they are trained to detect upwards of 20 odors and are able to serve as a community resource if called upon by local law enforcement agencies.

“At Maury Regional, we are committed to ensuring the safety and security of all individuals who enter our buildings,” Short said. “Sometimes in health care, emotions can run high. Having one of our K-9s on duty to respond to these tense situations can often calm individuals through their presence alone before it escalates. They can definitely change the dynamic of most any interaction by their very presence.”

“They’re part of the team,” Nations added. “They get excited to come into work each day. They love seeing the staff — Max probably hears 150 times a day how beautiful he is — but they take their jobs and the safety of our staff, patients and visitors very seriously.”

MRMC’s K-9 program is made possible thanks to funding from the Maury Regional Health Care Foundation and the Maury Regional Medical Center Auxiliary, a service organization that funds special requests from departments of the medical center through fundraising activities and revenue generated from the operation of the hospital’s Gift Shop.

MRMC K-9 unit

Pictured, from left: James Hill and Merlin, Chris Lovett and Maverick, Maury Regional Medical Center Security Director Mike Johnson, Scott Nations and Max, and John Holland and Milo.

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