Otis Barnes may work primarily for the security department at Nash UNC Health Care, but he approaches his job more like a minister or psychologist.
As a member of the security team, Barnes can usually be found at the metal detector at the entrance to the emergency department or in the Women’s Center. He screens visitors and patients and assists people in finding their way to where they need to be.
He says he’s come across a few stressed-out people in his years, first as a CNA and later as a security guard.
Barnes said hospitals can be a place where emotions run high and patients and their families may feel sad, anxious, angry, frustrated and upset.
“My philosophy is to approach everyone with kindness. In stressful situations, I try to keep calm and help others keep calm. I have found if you speak in the right tone, with respect and try to see what a person is going through, you can usually de-escalate a situation and help avert anything bad happening,” Barnes said. “I would talk as long as it takes, until the next morning if needed, with a person before I would want to use force or anything like that. When you are working security, physical force is an option — but it’s the last option.”
Barnes said he started working at Nash General in 1982 as a CNA on the fifth floor. He’s worked off and on at Nash UNC since then, either as a security guard or a licensed CNAII. In 2011, he began just working as a security guard.
He said his experience as a medical professional has helped him in his role as a security guard.
“Sometimes when someone is coming through the doors of the emergency room, I can tell immediately they need a doctor. We try to get them where they need to go quickly,” Barnes said.
Barnes recently assisted a visitor that needed medical help in the Women’s Center.
Shannon Parson, a nurse in the Women’s Center, said she observed Barnes calming down a visitor in medical distress as he expertly got the appropriate medical personnel to come and assist.
“Labor and delivery nurses rushed to where the patient was, and Otis was standing there, trying to keep them calm. He was coaching them to just keep taking nice, slow deep breaths and was reassuring the person that everything was going to be OK. Otis was very calm and stayed with them until help from an emergency response team arrived,” Parson recalled.
She said the patient was quickly taken to the ER.
“Had it not been for Otis’ quick action getting them to a safe place and calling for help, the outcome could have been very different. He was so calm and compassionate, holding the patient’s hand and coaching them to keep them calm in a very scary situation. We are so thankful for him in the Women’s Center,” Parson added.
Barnes said he thinks the key to good communication — whether you’re in the medical field or working security — is to come from a place of kindness and empathy.
“You just have to keep everything calm and use the right words at the right time. Try to see things from their perspective and express your positive outlook that there is a solution — that things will be OK,” he said.
Barnes’ co-workers agree that he seems to have a gift for keeping everyone calm and safe.
“Otis is great at what he does,” said Sgt. Kenneth Burroughs of the Nash UNC Security Team. “Otis is committed to the safety of our patients, families and staff and consistently goes above and beyond to help others.”
Barnes continues his affinity for calmness with his favorite past time — kayaking.
He and his wife typically kayak as often as they can in their spare time.
“I like the quietness of it, on the water,” Barnes said.
Barnes, 68, says he doesn’t have plans to retire any time soon.
“I love what I do, I like the people I work with and no day is the same,” he said. “I like to stay busy, so I think I’ll be staying a little while longer.”