Safety Concern at Hawaii State Hospital

(KHNL) -- Assaults against doctors and staff by patients at the Hawaii State Hospital are creeping up.  It's up nine percent from this time last year for medical staff, from 99 to 107 assaults, according to Department of Health statistics.  It's also up from two in 2006 to three so far this year for doctors.

Monday, a nurse and a former doctor there claim their concerns about the Kaneohe hospital are falling on deaf ears.

This is registered nurse Terry Evans after a patient assaulted her.

"And the next thing I know, I was on the floor," she said. "I had blacked out and he had repeatedly beat me, crushed my whole bottom orbital. My eye was displaced, fell into my socket."

Evans also suffered a broken nose and she's not alone. In recent years, assaults against doctors and staff at Hawaii State Hospital are climbing, up nine percent from last year, and up 41 percent from 2005 to 2006.

"I finally decided I couldn't continue to work there anymore because I don't believe it's a safe environment," said Dr. Karen Ritchie, a psychiatrist and former president of the hospital's medical staff. "So I very reluctantly had to resign."

Dr. Ritchie and nurse Evans said inadequate training is part of the problem. But since Evans' assault in January, the hospital has not changed its policies.

"The staff training issue did come up," said Mark Fridovich, an administrator at the hospital. "We are anticipating considering revising our protocol in terms of how we train staff to manage difficult people."

Evans said seven months is a long time to wait for change.

"I said, 'What is it going to take? Is someone going to have to be killed before something gets done about this?'" Evans said.

"So, we're certainly not waiting for a death to occur before action is taken," said Dr. Thomas Hester, the hospital's medical chief. "Like I said, we take action after each of these assaults."

Action that hasn't yet resulted in policy changes.

"Unless proactive measures are taken, it is very likely that the Department of Justice will be asked to reassert itself," said Sen. Clayton Hee, (D) Windward, Oahu.

The Department of Justice last released the Hawaii State Hospital from oversight in November of 2005.

Hospital administrators reviewed the video tape of the assault against Evans late Monday afternoon.  They say employees reacted appropriately and quickly to help her.