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I-Team: Lawmaker Calls For Investigation After Nurse Attacked In Tewksbury Hospital

TEWKSBURY (CBS) - Last August, inside Tewksbury Hospital, a violent patient nearly strangled a nurse to death. Haruna Maliani was working that day and tells the I-Team, "he tried killing her, no if, ands, or buts about it."

The nurse who was assaulted lives in Representative Colleen Garry's district. Garry says more needs to be done to keep health care providers safe. "We need a real investigation and as far as I'm concerned, heads need to roll," Garry said. "It was so low staffed, that the one staffer that saw it happen, went over to try and pull him off but he was so big, she couldn't do it. She had to leave her colleague being strangled to go get help."

The I-Team has learned that wasn't the only attack. Nurses say physical and sexual assaults by patients are not uncommon and employees are discouraged from reporting them. "I've been punched, I've been assaulted multiple times, I've been bitten multiple times," Maliani said.

Tewksbury Hospital is run by the state Department of Public Health. The facility takes in patients with behavioral and medical issues that no other hospital will accept.

The Department of Health tells the I-Team it did investigate the strangling incident and found staffing wasn't a factor. It also says the hospital has started a training program that includes de-escalation techniques for difficult patient interactions.

We asked Representative Garry if she thought the facility was safe. "I still have concerns. Not helping our employees stay safe or the patients who are in the room with this person who could be dangerous, keeping them safe," Garry said. "Yeah, it's going to cost money and it's a state facility and we're responsible for it."

Maliani was a nursing supervisor at the hospital. He showed the I-Team dozens of emails he sent to the state over the years about needing more staff for direct patient care.

"Yes, it is dangerous level of staffing. Right now, since the last incident occurred in August, they brought in a lot of temporary staff," Maliani said. "Those are just temporary staff, but if you peel them back, you have a very skeleton crew."

Maliani believes he has been made a scapegoat by the Department of Public Health. After the strangling incident he was put on paid administrative leave for months, even though he says he was not responsible for hiring or scheduling nurses.

"I believe honestly it is retaliatory. I have been very vocal, I have raised a couple of concerns about issues at the hospital," Maliani said. "The administration there in my opinion hasn't done what they should be doing."

Maliani is now back to work at the hospital in a different department and is grieving a suspension.

Representative Garry says the state has not followed up on her demands for an independent investigation into the facility.

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