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N4T Investigators: Hospital workers in risky business - KVOA | KVOA.com | Tucson, Arizona

N4T Investigators: Hospital workers in risky business

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Tucson – “I hear a nurse holler out, 'Could somebody please come help me?'’

Kelli Graves answered her fellow nurse's plea for help and ended up with bruises under her right eye, on her left arm, and with fears for her safety. It happened in Oro Valley Hospital's intensive care unit on Sept. 11. At about 6:15 p.m., a "Code Gray" was announced over the loudspeaker, meaning a person was being violent, out of control or abusive. 

Graves said a female patient in her mid 40's was flailing, kicking, punching and screaming at several employees, mostly nurses, who were trying to get her back in bed, while holding her extremities.

“Her leg kind of pulled out of my hand,” Graves said, “and as hard as she could, well it felt as hard as she could, she came up to my face with her knee.” 

Graves says hospital security and Oro Valley Police responded quickly. But she and several other employees have filed a complaint against the patient with police, alleging Aggravated Assault. 

Graves has been a registered nurse for 25 years, 17 of them in emergency departments at five hospitals in other states.  She's worried about hospital violence here.

We asked Graves, “Is the hospital doing enough to protect staff?” She said, “No, I don't believe so.” 

The News 4 Tucson Investigators requested an interview with a representative of Oro Valley Hospital. A hospital spokesperson declined our request but emailed us a statement.

The statement did not address the recent incident; part of it said, "Clinical employees who work directly with patients are trained on responding to a combative patient which includes guidance not to engage with combative patients unless so directed. Employees also have access to Crisis Prevention Institute training for the safe management of disruptive and assaultive behavior."
  
Graves said, “I don't think it's just this hospital. I'm going to be just totally honest. It's hospitals everywhere. It's hospitals throughout our nation.”

Indeed, YouTube videos show hospital employees nationwide and overseas being attacked by patients.  A patient at a Minnesota hospital hit workers with a metal bar. Elsewhere, patients punched hospital employees in the face, without warning. 

Lisa Wolf,  Director of the Emergency Nurses Association and an RN for 20 years, said, “We get hit a lot. You know, we get hit, we get punched, we get slapped, we get spit on.”

The U.S. Department of Labor says hospitals have a rate of 6.8% of work-related injuries and illnesses for every 100 full-time employees, almost twice the rate for private industry.  A study published recently in the New England Journal of Medicine said "Health care workplace violence is an under reported...persistent problem that has been tolerated and largely ignored." 

Wolf said, “In most cases, nurses don't even bother filing an incident report because the perception is that nothing will happen to it.” 

Kelli Graves said, “We have to mandate safety first. And that's not happening right now.”

According to the American Nurses Association, eleven states have enacted safe patient handling laws. Arizona is not one of them.

Oro Valley Police are looking at possible felony charges in the recent hospital incident. Graves was the only employee who agreed to talk to us on camera, because other workers involved are reportedly worried about retribution from the hospital. However, whistle blowers are protected under Arizona law. So if there is retribution, we will report that, too. 

If you have a story you'd like us to investigate, email us at investigators@kvoa.com or call our tip line at 520- 955-4444. 

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