Tukwila, Oct. 26 -- The Washington State Nurses Association filed a complaint with the Washington Department of Labor and Industries requesting a comprehensive investigation into workplace violence against nurses at Virginia Mason Franciscan Health.
Nurses have come forward in recent months describing an unsafe work environment where patient and visitor attacks on nurses and other healthcare staff are increasingly common. These attacks are occurring more frequently than what WSNA has seen from other hospitals. The hospital hasn’t implemented common industry preventive measures to prevent workplace violence, including visitor sign-ins, metal detectors, a security dog on site, and having sufficient nurses and security guards for nurses to have as backup with high-risk patients.
“Virginia Mason has failed to provide ‘a workplace free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause serious injury or death,’ as evidenced by a recurring pattern of violent incidents,” the complaint states. “The nurses at Virginia Mason report that they regularly feel unsafe at work. There are countless examples of nurses being attacked by patients or visitors; or having witnessed violence against a co-worker.”
Some examples cited:
- In September 2022, a nurse was attacked by a patient with a hammer, which barely missed his head, and broke a hole in the wall.
- On July 11, 2023, a patient’s husband was acting unruly, was searched by security, and was found to have a gun in his bag.
- On July 12, 2023, a nurse was stabbed by a patient with a metal butter knife, resulting in an emergency department visit.
- On July 18, 2023, a nurse reported being bitten by a patient.
- On Oct. 21, 2023, a nurse witnessed a patient care technician (PCT) in the violent chokehold of a patient. The nurse hit the ‘panic button’ and approached the scene. It took the nurse and two other staff members to free the PCT from the chokehold and the nurse was thrown against the wall in their effort to free the patient. The patient was eventually contained by the staff members, none of whom were security personnel. It took security approximately 15-20 minutes to arrive.
Hospitals are also required to follow hospital-specific laws, which include documenting and keeping records of “any violent act against an employee or patient” for five years as required by RCW 49.19.040. They also need to have a functioning workplace safety committee and plan and to provide ongoing workplace safety training.
WSNA believes that Virginia Mason is failing in both overall workplace violence requirements and in those specific to healthcare settings.
Virginia Mason, founded in 1920, is one of 140 hospitals owned by Chicago-based CommonSpirit Health, the nation’s largest nonprofit health system. The hospital was an independent hospital until 2021 when it was acquired by CommonSpirit Health, the parent organization of Virginia Mason Franciscan Health.