Elizabeth Dalton was working her 11 p.m. shift at Brigham and Women’s Hospital’s Cardiac Intensive Care Unit in May when the enraged father of a patient pulled a 10-inch Buck knife on her as she tried to adjust his son’s breathing mask.
“I could have never imagined this would happen on my unit in a million years,” Dalton told the Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development on Tuesday. “I tried to get out of the room, moving very slowly and asking the man three times to put the knife down.”
Instances like the one Dalton experienced are becoming more common in hospitals and medical facilities all over the Bay State. The Massachusetts Nurses Association called on Beacon Hill to address the rise in workplace violence, citing the personal experiences of several workers and the death of Dr. Michael Davidson, a Brigham and Women’s cardiac surgeon who was gunned down by a relative of a patient in January 2015.
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The MNA and Rep. Michael Brady are pushing for a bill that would require healthcare providers to provide a comprehensive program to prevent what they call “an epidemic of workplace violence on par with police officers and prison guards,” along with a counseling program for victims of violence. They cite a Bureau of Labor Statistics report that says workplace violence affects an estimated 1.7 million employees in the U.S. annually. Nurses and other personal care workers are at the highest risk, suffering violent assaults at a rate nearly five times higher than the average worker in all other industries combined.
At the Worcester Recovery Center in 2014 alone, 425 assaults on staff members were reported resulting in 4,102 lost days of work.
Laurie Grover, a nurse at WRC, suffered a savage beating at the hands of two patients in May.
“A male patient lunged at me with a shank,” Grover said. “While another worker and I tried to de-escalate the situation, a woman patient came up from behind and attacked me. That was the worst beating I’ve ever taken in my entire life.”
What followed was a barrage of fists and feet that left her bruised and beaten before security could step in and stop the attack. Grover claims that her efforts to get the hospital to address this and other acts of violence have fallen on deaf ears.
They say administrators are quick to respond initially, but the amount of “continuing without a finding” instances mount rapidly. The MNA has filed complaints with OSHA that include police reports and have raised issues with their employers, but they say they have seen no results.
“They could do something as simple as allowing staff to search people coming into the hospitals,” Grover said. “We don’t have that ability anymore. Anyone can walk in with anything. We need a structure we all can follow in order to have a safe work environment and not have to worry about getting killed while we’re doing our jobs trying to help people."