KANEOHE, OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A veteran State Hospital employee said he was attacked by a patient late last year and the state tried to cover-up the severity of the attack, a charge the state denied Tuesday.
The violent mental patient suspected in this incident has also been charged with assaulting two State Hospital employees in July and August of this year.
But Hawaii News Now is investigating two assaults allegedly by the same patient that happened on the same day just before Christmas last year.
"He lunged forward, like in a real hard force and just nailed me right in the head," said Everett Pierce, 41, a psychiatric technician at the State Hospital. The 13-year hospital employee described the assault he suffered when a mental patient head-butted him while he was trying to restrain him after he'd assaulted another employee at the State Hospital on December 20.
Pierce showed Hawaii News Now a hospital incident report that said he had minor tenderness with no redness or swelling.
"That's a lie. My head was clearly swollen," Pierce said, adding he had large lumps on his head, and his eye was partially swollen shut with some blood on his scalp.
"I believe that the state was trying to cover up the fact that I really got hurt and they were trying to downsize it so it wouldn't hit the media," Pierce said, because the state had been under scrutiny over the previous year, after a Hawaii News Now investigation spotlighted frequent violent attacks on hospital staff and a special State Senate committee held special hearings.
Pierce also claimed the incident report incorrectly said the patient was not injured, when the patient actually was bleeding from his head after the head butting incident.
A state health department spokeswoman denied any effort to downplay the seriousness of the assault.
"Every assault that occurs at the hospital is a serious issue and undergoes an intensive review process," the state said in a statement. "We want to provide Mr. Pierce any assistance we can with his concerns about his injury report, correct any errors, and make any improvement needed.
Pierce's personal physician, Dr. Scott Miscovich, said, "The problem is that the process is almost as traumatic as the event."
Pierce lost his medical insurance for himself, his wife and two kids while he's been out on worker's comp, because he was one day late with an insurance payment.
"It's not unusual that these people will get injured and then three months later, they don't have any family or private insurance, they start losing benefits that they may have worked and accrued for a long time and there's no help. There's nowhere to turn," said Miscovich, who is the president of the Work Injury Medical Association of Hawaii, which represents workers compensation doctors statewide.
"Here's an individual goes to work one day, and his life changes overnight. Then they have to go through a process that no one guides them through where someone may be close to losing their home, losing their car, losing their family," Miscovich added.
Pierce also complained about short staffing -- a longtime problem at the mental hospital. He said the day the assault happened, he was one of just two psychiatric technicians to watch about 30 mental patients in the hospital's second most-dangerous unit. He said there should be a minimum of five psych techs working with that many patients.
"When we get hurt, the state doesn't protect us how we should be protected. I just don't think that our system is working," Pierce said.
Pierce said he's suffered numerous assaults during his 13 years working at the hospital, including being kicked, slapped and punched by mental patients. He said in 2008, he broke several ribs during a patient assault.
Video surveillance footage of the incident – which is routinely saved for 30 days – was not retained, because at the time, Pierce did not choose to file a complaint with police about the assault, according to Janice Okubo, the spokeswoman for the state Department of Health.
"Mr. Pierce may still file a police report to charge the patient with a felony for the assault," Okubo said in a statement. "All Hawaii State Hospital employees are encouraged to file a police report when an assault occurs regardless of the type of injury. The Department of Health is committed to creating a safe working place for our employees and Hawaii State Hospital is in need of facility improvements."