Attack in the ER: Health care workers face spike in violence

Published: Feb. 9, 2023 at 6:14 PM EST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

RUTLAND, Vt. (WCAX) - It was only a few short years ago when health care workers were praised as heroes for braving the pandemic. Today, many of those workers now face a different fear -- violent attacks by their patients. Health care facilities across the state say their employees are increasingly threatened by the patients they are trying to treat.

It’s an average day for Myla Lindroos and her five-month-old baby, Elina, at their Rutland home.

Reporter Ike Bendavid: What’s it like being a mom?

Myla Lindroos: It’s the best. It’s something I always dreamed about.

Another dream fulfilled for Lindroos was becoming a nurse. “I love it. I love being a nurse and I love helping people,” she said.

Lindroos is a nurse in the ER at Rutland Regional Medical Center, where she worked right up until the last day of her pregnancy. While on the job -- and about eight months pregnant last June - there was a patient she will never forget. “I had been warned she was being resistant to being discharged,” Lindroos recalled.

Lindroos says the patient -- 48-year-old Brandee Richards -- continued to be resistant by standing on wheelchairs and urinating and throwing items. And then the situation escalated. “She just suddenly lost it and launched herself up and across the room and tackled me and I went backward over a stretcher that was behind me.”

Lindroos says Richards got on top of her and proceeded to punch her in the belly. “I had these two crystal clear back-to-back thoughts -- the nursery is not finished and this isn’t worth it -- this job, this woman isn’t worth it,” Lindroos said.

Security and other nurses stepped in and Lindroos was rushed up to labor and delivery to get evaluated. “I heard her heartbeat and I just started sobbing, and I just cried and cried,” Lindroos said. Both mother and baby were healthy, but those moments of fear linger when she looks at her daughter. “I see her and I can’t imagine my life without her. If something were to happen...”

“Our entire department was shaken up by that for a while,” said Sheena Fisher, RRMC’s director of emergency services. She says Lynrdoos isn’t the only one in the ER who has been assaulted. “She’s just one example of many... it’s happening a lot more frequently than anyone knows.”

According to Press Ganey, an organization that conducts health care surveys, two nurses were assaulted every hour in 2022 nationwide. And in 2018, health care workers made up 73% of all non-fatal workplace injuries.

“When I first started in emergency medicine, I never thought twice about being assaulted at work,” Fisher said. But now she says it’s an everyday fear. RRMC documented 190 workplace violence events just last year. “Patient-on-staff violence is impacting the overall workforce and some of our nurses are actually changing their professions, questioning their purpose as a nurse.”

“The feeling across the state is that it is on the rise, especially after COVID, for some reason, things have gone up,” said Mitch Baroody, the general counsel and chief compliance officer at RRMC.

Attacks on health care workers are investigated by the police. Most of the time, violators are given a citation and referred to the local state’s attorney’s office for prosecution. “From the cases we are seeing, there is a common throughline of substance abuse and mental health, or a combination of both. Those are factors in a lot of the cases we see,” said Rutland County State’s Attorney Ian Sullivan. He says he has 24 assault cases on health care workers on his desk and believes there are many more that don’t get reported. “When people are making the choice between their profession - caring for other people -- and their own safety, I think we run the risk of having our ERs and other systems empty out of other professionals.”

Reporter Ike Bendavid: So how do you prevent that?

Ian Sullivan: I think accountability is one of the first steps.

As for Lindroos - she’s back in the ER working and trying to live with the trauma. “This had been my job that I had chosen. and I put her in danger trying to take care of sick people,” she said.

In the case of Brandee Richards, A judge is currently deciding if she will face additional felony charges of striking a pregnant woman.

Meanwhile, many health care officials -- and state lawmakers -- want to add more legal consequences for offenders. In part 2 of his story, Ike Bendavid on Friday will look at new legislation that would permit law enforcement to directly arrest a person who interferes with health care services rather than just issue a citation, and why critics say it won’t do enough.

Related Stories:

Vt. bill aims to protect health care workers from violence

Pregnant nurse punched by patient in Rutland

UVM Medical Center nurses say they’re under attack