Five “serious” violations and $14,400 fine follows patient attacks on nurses

Flyer serious violations

The state Department of Labor and Industries on April 11 cited and fined St. Joseph Medical Center Tacoma for safety violations related to a series of attacks on nurses at the hospital. L&I’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health launched an investigation at the request of WSNA after a patient in the psychiatric unit assaulted numerous nurses in October 2018. The patient threatened to kill, punched, kicked and scratched staff members, inflicting serious injuries.

“It is my sincere hope that St. Joe’s will better protect employees as a result of these citations,” said Tami Green, RN, who was punched in the eye and kicked in the mouth by the patient. “I have decades of experience working with psychiatric patients and have never been injured, physically and emotionally, like I was in this instance.”

WSNA complained to the state that St. Joe’s had failed to furnish its employees a place of employment free from recognized hazards, had failed to provide adequate training, and failed to conduct a safety committee in accordance with state law.

The Division of Safety and Health cited the hospital for failing to conduct an effective, inclusive incident investigation into the assaults. Additional violations addressed the safety committee, which DOSH found did not effectively address safety topics and did not include the required number of employee representatives.

“These violations and assaults at the hospital add up to a place where nurses don’t feel safe,” said Sally Watkins, Executive Director of WSNA. “That is not okay. Violence against nurses and other hospital employees is on the rise, and it is imperative that we act to better prevent assaults, better train our frontline caregivers to protect themselves and better respond to incidents when they do occur.”

Recent incidents of violence against nurses represented by WSNA include two assaults at Kadlec Medical Center in Richland last September. In one case a nurse was strangled by an ICU patient; in another an emergency room nurse was punched, scratched and thrown against the wall by a patient, resulting in serious injuries to the nurse and co-workers who tried to pull the patient off her. Charges were brought against the patients in both cases, and the emergency room patient has been found guilty of assault. The other case is pending.

WSNA worked in coalition with other unions in this legislative session to strengthen Washington’s workplace violence in health care statute to include greater specificity regarding requirements for workplace violence prevention plans and increased workplace violence training. SHB 1931 passed both houses of the Legislature and is on its way to the Governor’s desk.

“Violence against nurses is a growing problem, and we have to address it through multiple avenues, including legislation, regulatory agencies and at the bargaining table,” said Watkins. “The likelihood of health care workers being exposed to violence is higher than prison guards or police officers. That has to end.”