Patient attacks on staff surge at state hospital

From Salem Statesman Journal, October 12 2008

547 assaults so far this year already tops the 320 in ’07

Patient assaults on staff have increased this year at Oregon State Hospital, rekindling frustration among workers fed up with violence at the embattled 125-year-old institution in Salem.

Several overcrowded, thinly staffed treatment wards particularly are dangerous, workers said.

“People are getting hurt left and right,” said Jim Walker, a mental-health therapy coordinator who has worked at the hospital for 19 years. “We’ve got like four wards that are just hideous. I don’t see anybody stepping in to protect us.”

So far this year, the hospital has logged 547 patient-on-staff assaults, far surpassing the 320 recorded in 2007 and 252 in 2006, according to hospital records.

This year’s spate of violence includes incidents in which staff members were punched, kicked, scratched, bitten, spit on and hit by thrown objects.

State Sen. Jackie Winters, R-Salem, has demanded that state hospital administrators soon provide her with a report on worker’s compensation claims stemming from staff injuries caused by patient assaults, along with explanations for the spike in violence.

“If assaults are up, the question is why?” she said.

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OUR COMMENT – Writer Alan Gustufson finds the right question with this article, but fails to ask all the prospective authorities on the question. The question is, why are assaults increasing? Gustufson asks hospital bureaucrats, clinicians, and even a politician why – and all of them have to guess. But he fails to ask patients why, and though clearly there are barriers to asking them, they hold the answer.

And frankly, with the prospect of hiring 1000 new employees to staff the Oregon State Hospital on the table before the legislature, without some clearer investigation including answers directly from patients, this article must be considered fearmongering propaganda. Frankly, we doubt the facts as presented.

Our advice – get both sides of the story before you go to print.