“We’ve had enough.”

Nurses around the country are assaulted in the workplace every day. In fact, acute and long-term subacute care hospitals have the highest rate of workplace violence of any work setting nationwide. At Bellevue Hospital Center, part of the NYC Health + Hospitals system, a recent incident had NYSNA members saying enough is enough.

In early February, a NYSNA member working in the Bellevue ED was brutally assaulted by a highly agitated patient. The patient was restrained, but was able to get out of the wrist restraints. Hiding behind a curtain, the patient then attacked the nurse as she left the staff lounge. If a colleague hadn’t seen her being pulled into a nearby room, the nurse might have sustained permanent injury or possibly been killed.

A near miss

New York City Health and Hospitals Police Department (NYHP) arrested the patient and the RN who was assaulted has pursued this case, working with the District Attorney’s Office to make sure her assailant has been charged. In a show of solidarity and support, several of her colleagues accompanied her to the grand jury hearing.

According to Bellevue LBU Vice President Christina DeGaray, RN, this event somehow stood above the many workplace violence incidents that occur at Bellevue on a regular basis. “We saw this as a ‘near miss.’ It could easily have ended up as a fatality. After years of asking for safety improvements and access control we’ve had enough,” said DeGaray

DeGaray, who works in the Bellevue ED, says that this incident was a result of many failures. “Understaffing meant that there was no one directly observing an out-of-control patient who was in restraints. It also meant that the assault almost wasn’t observed by anyone, which could have had disastrous consequences. A shortage of hospital police officers means that security personnel are often pulled out of the ED to deal with emergencies elsewhere in the hospital. And the type of restraints used weren’t adequate.”

LBU leadership recognized that union action was necessary when follow-up meetings between ED unit staff and nursing administration resulted in no timely plans for effective change. In fact, nursing management didn’t even consider the unit understaffed when the assault occurred.

NYSNA leadership took action by visiting units throughout the hospital and soliciting input from members on risk factors for violence on their units and suggestions for improvements. During these visits LBU leaders were moved by the number of nurses, patient care technicians, behavioral health associates and NYHP officers who gave accounts of their own assaults.

Safety demands

Many spoke of their feeling of isolation and confusion about what to do next and whom to call. As a result of this feedback, the LBU leadership is requesting that management develop a single-page fact sheet to be given to all injured employees containing information on the workers’ comp process, time and leave grants and names and phone numbers of who to call for information and assistance.

The LBU leadership has also compiled a list of safety demands using information gained from these unit visits and recommendations from NYSNA’s Occupational Health and Safety Representative based on an onsite inspection. The LBU leadership and ED unit nurses met with nursing management to present their safety demands. Nurses throughout the facility are also signing a petition and writing letters to nursing and hospital management to keep the pressure on hospital leadership.

Keeping the pressure on

NYSNA members have reached out to other unions at Bellevue as well, because unsafe conditions affect all employees. They will continue pushing nursing management and will move up the ladder to the CEO and head of security. They intend to keep the pressure on until they can get firm commitments on safety improvements and clear timelines for when changes will occur.

Says DeGaray, “We have to take this into our own hands. We need more than lip service from management. We will persist in our fight until we believe the hospital is taking sufficient action to protect us and other employees.”

Photo: Recently assaulted Bellevue ED nurse’s co-workers at the courthouse to show support during a grand jury hearing of her assailant.

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