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Healthcare Workers Demand More Security After Buffalo Shooting: 'I'm Surprised It Didn't Happen Here'

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- The tragic Allina Health clinic shooting in Buffalo has some Minnesota health care workers worry the same thing could happen where they work.

Leif and Margaret Thorsgaard learned of last week's tragedy while they were on the job in their emergency room at United Hospital in St. Paul, also an Allina facility.

"It's kind of just a heart-sinking feeling," Margaret said.

READ MORE: 1 Week After 'Senseless Attack', Allina Health Invites Minnesotans To Show Support For Buffalo Community

Margaret works as a tech. Leif's a nurse. The married couple says even before the shooting, they had a feeling of vulnerability every day in the ER.

"My first thought when I saw that [in Buffalo] was 'I'm surprised it didn't happen here,'" Leif said.

They want more protection to guard against worst-case scenarios like in Buffalo, and also more common abuses they say they face.

"We come to work and we're there to help people and [we're] getting, you know, sworn at on a daily basis, because it really is almost daily. Or even physically abused or sexually harassed," Margaret said. "All of it happens."

The couple gives Allina some credit, saying panic buttons have been installed in the last couple years, and management's been supportive of stopping verbal abuse from patients.

Allina Health ER Emergency Room
(credit: CBS)

Leif says he believes having a security presence at the ER entrance is crucial.

"[It] goes a long, long way to like curbing people's irritation, you know, and potential for violence," he said.

Allina said last week it increased security in its facilities. A spokesperson wouldn't elaborate Monday on what those measures were, or where they went into effect.

Dr. Kevin Sirmons, an Otsego MD who's worked in hospitals and has experience in crisis training, says on top of manned security, locked doors and physical barriers can improve safety. He also says staff should know basic first aid to help the potential wounded.

The Thorsgaards' respective unions are still both fighting for more safety precautions.

READ MORE: 'Hospitals Are Not Fortresses': Healthcare Workers At Increased Risk For Workplace Violence

The Minnesota Nurses Association released this statement in response to the violence at the Buffalo clinic:

Minnesota Nurses are again shocked and saddened by the news of another incident of workplace violence at a healthcare facility in the state. As caretakers of victims of gunshots and other violent injuries, nurses and healthcare workers are acutely aware that violence could easily come to the doors of their workplace too. Seeing other workers become victims shakes any hospital worker to their core. When nurses reflect on the increase of violence in the healthcare setting, tragic incidents such as the one at St. John's Hospital in 2015, plague their thoughts and often result in nurses leaving the bedside.

Healthcare facilities should be safe places -- for patients, health care workers, and visitors. A 2019 survey of Minnesota Nurses Association membership showed that 95 percent of MNA nurses say they do not feel safe from violence at work. Nurses urge policy makers to determine the causes of this incident and all other reports of workplace violence and prioritize sweeping changes to ensure safety in these places. Workplace violence incidents in healthcare facilities should be flagged and reported in a central location and healthcare workers should have the ability to process and recover from these types of incidents without penalty. Protecting frontline workers from violent incidents, whether from visitors, patients, or colleagues, needs to be a priority of policy makers.

The Minnesota Nurses Association offers our commitment and pledge to the healthcare workers and patients involved in [last week's] incident that we will not stop until healthcare facilities become a safe place for both workers and patients.

SEIU Healthcare Minnesota President Jamie Gulley released this statement on Monday:

The issue of workplace safety is critically important for SEIU Healthcare Minnesota members across our state. No matter where we work, we need to do everything possible to ensure healthcare workers are safe so they can provide the world-class care Minnesotans expect and deserve.

Even before the awful tragedy in Buffalo last week, we've been discussing measures with all Twin Cities hospitals in our contract negotiations to make every workplace one that is safe for staff and patients. What happened last week only increased the sense of urgency to take action. We are working to reach agreements for healthcare workers to ensure their workplace is safe and we are hopeful that every hospital will find common ground with us to make this a reality.

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