The Alameda County Medical Center's board of trustees voted unanimously Tuesday to switch to a private firm for security at its psychiatric facility.

The move means that beginning

May 1, Alameda County sheriff's deputies would no longer provide security there, a decision that upsets some hospital employees, a hospital union official said.

The trustees approved a three-year, $3.6 million contract with Denver-based Healthcare Security Services Inc. to provide security for John George Psychiatric Pavilion in San Leandro, as well as the centers' Fairmont campus and Eastmont Wellness Center.

Alameda County sheriff's deputies have provided security at John George since a patient killed staff physician Dr. Erlinda Ursua in November 2003.

Brook Demmerle, a work-site organizer for Local 1021 of the Service Employees International Union, said some of the 300 hospital employees the local represents would fear for their safety without the sheriff's deputies on duty.

That's because a high percentage of patients at John George have criminal histories, and there have been attacks on staff members in the past, she said.

"The staff here is very concerned with replacing the sheriff's department," Demmerle said. "There's a reason why the sheriff's department was brought to the hospital in the first place."

Earlier this week about 75 mental health workers, nurses, clerks and other employees at John George protested the county medical board's pending approval of the new contract.

The three-year contract with the private firm will save the medical center approximately $380,000 per year, officials said. According to the board staff report, Healthcare Security Services has experience in serving mental health facilities.

The new contract is scheduled to go into effect May 1.

Contact Chris Metinko at 510-763-5418 or cmetinko@bayareanewsgroup.com.