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Health: An Unsettling Investigation Involving Hospitals

By Stephanie Stahl

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- CBS 3 uncovers something disturbing happening inside local hospitals.  Health care workers being attacked.  3 On Your Side Health Reporter Stephanie Stahl has the investigation.

The tender, sweetness of her daughter helps Sam Karr, a nurse, get past a brutal attack by a patient she was trying to help in the emergency room.

"I screamed because it was quite painful.  I was being chewed on and the person was just not letting go," said Sam.  The patient, Marie Kent, suddenly went berserk and bit Sam.  She was convicted of aggravated assault.  It left Sam struggling with post-traumatic stress and anxiety.

"The hardest part for me was not feeling safe.  It was hard to comprehend that another person would be capable of just that kind of violence," said Sam.  She is among a growing number of nurses and other medical staff who've been attacked on the job.

Loretta Yavorsky, a nurse, was bitten too, and had to have reconstructive surgery on her finger.

"I think I was in shock.  I don't really remember pain, I just couldn't stop crying," said Loretta.

"She was punching and scratching my arms as I was defending my face," described Shauna Tripani, a local nurse.  She says it gets worse.

"People threaten to come back with a gun.  People threaten to come back and look for your family.  It happens on a regular basis.

The Labor Department says health care is the leading industry for workplace violence.

How many attacks are there?  We don't know because there is no uniform reporting system.  So CBS 3 asked nearly 70 local hospitals how many incidents they've had.  Only three provided numbers.

"They don't like the bad publicity," said Patty Eakin, President of the Pennsylvania Association of Nurses.  She says some hospitals are not doing enough to protect their staff.  And nurses are often reluctant to report abuse for a number of reasons, including fear of retribution from their employer.

"Lots of hospitals tell their nurses oh don't call 911.  It's against the hospital policy," said Patty.

"This is a serious situation that our facilities take very seriously," said Mark Ross, the Regional Manager Emergency Preparedness for The Hospital and Healthsystem Association of Pennsylvania.  He says many facilities follow voluntary regulations set up by an independent national group called The Joint Commission.

"There is a constant oversight of following these regulations," said Mark.

Stephanie asked, "What do you say to complaints that the situation that you have in place, the standards aren't enough?"

Mark replied, "Health systems have made many improvements over the years to security features, cameras, access control, security officer."

But some think voluntary action is not enough.  A bill in the Pennsylvania House would require hospitals to create tougher workplace violence prevention programs, and a committee to review incidents.

"It's extremely important because without this legislation hospitals will continue to try to sweep this under the rug or say it doesn't  happen at my hospital," said Patty.

Sam works in a different hospital now, where she feels safer.

"It changed me for a very long time.  I was very apprehensive about a lot of things.  It took a while for me to get past it," said Sam.

Why are nurses and other health care workers targets of violence?  Experts say it's the stress of the ER environment and people, some of whom are mentally unstable or under the influence of drugs.

It's a felony to attack a health care worker.

For more information, visit the following link:

Pennsylvania House Bill 1746-

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