Attack on Maplewood nurses prompts legislation to prevent future assaults

Maplewood Police Chief Paul Schnell listens to RN Mary McGiven's testimony in a Senate committee hearing.

Maplewood Police Chief Paul Schnell listens to RN Mary McGiven’s testimony in a Senate committee hearing.

Maplewood Police Chief Paul Schnell warned senators on the Health, Human Services and Housing Committee that the video footage he would show in their hearing yesterday, taken during a patient’s attack on nurses at St. John’s Hospital last year, was disturbing and violent.

The footage showed a typical hospital workstation that, in an instant and without warning, became a frenzied scene, as the patient chased hospital workers, swinging a metal bar he stripped from an IV stand.

The Nov. 2 attack made headlines – and left one nurse with a collapsed lung, fractured the wrists of another and caused minor injuries to two other nurses.

Yesterday at the Capitol, members of the Minnesota Nurses Association offered their support for a bill to prevent future attacks against health care workers.

The Violence against Health Care Workers Bill, presented by chief author Sen. Chuck Wiger (DFL-Maplewood) at the committee hearing, would require hospitals to prepare for violent incidents by providing adequate training, staffing and security to health care workers who are faced with workplace violence – or risk losing their license to operate.

“It should be mandatory that we have that plan, and that we review it and rehearse it regularly,” Nora Jordan, a nurse at Sanford Hospital in Bemidji, told the committee. “That way we’re not just reacting, we’re acting.”

Jordan and other MNA members at the hearing asked lawmakers to take action to address an increase in the number of violent incidents – known in hospitals as “code greens” – in their workplaces.

“I like to think I’m pretty tough, but believe me, when I hear code green, I cringe,” critical-care nurse Mary McGiven told the committee.

Over the course of 19 years at Methodist Hospital in St. Louis Park, McGiven said, she has seen an increase in “code greens.” The last came after a patient grew increasingly agitated and began verbally abusing, kicking and spitting at staff attempting to provide him with care.

“A code green was called on this particular patient when he punched me right in the face,” McGiven said.

“I have been spit at, urinated on, kicked, scratched and punched in the face and chest,” she said. “I have suffered multiple bruises, sprained wrists and several shoulder injuries. And these are not rare occurrences. These happen every day in the hospital.”

But according to the Department of Justice, most non-fatal violent workplace crimes go reported to the police. That’s why Wiger’s bill, which is also progressing through the House, would require the state to set up an electronic “violence prevention database” that health care workers could access to report violence or abuse.

Chief Schnell, who provides training to Maplewood-area health care and social workers in dealing with aggressive behavior, said there were any number of reasons a health care worker might not report an assault, from fear of being blamed by supervisors to feeling such attacks are “just part of the job.”

“I’ve asked workers what they would recommend to a patient who reported being abused in the workplace or in their home, and almost always their response is, ‘I would tell them to report it,’” Schnell said. “What’s interesting is when health care workers describe incidents in their workplaces where they’ve been abused, they may not always follow their own advice.”

Schnell likened the data-collection provision of Wiger’s bill to the Jeanne Clery Act, which requires colleges to keep and disclose information about crime on and near their campuses. He credited the law with heightening awareness about campus crime and fostering important, if sometimes uncomfortable discussions on campuses across the country.

“Violence against health care workers is unacceptable,” Wiger said. “These hardworking people are tasked with the health and safety of their patients; it’s time to make sure they have the same protections.”

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