State Hospital nurse assaulted as facility conducts safety 'stand down'

EXCLUSIVE: Troubled state hospital asks staff for safety improvement ideas following HNN report
Published: Dec. 3, 2013 at 9:57 PM HST|Updated: Dec. 4, 2013 at 3:19 PM HST
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KANEOHE, OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Three weeks after a Hawaii News Now investigation revealed severe attacks by mental patients on Hawaii State Hospital staff, the hospital held a "stand down" Monday to ask employees how to improve safety there.

Administrators spent several hours listening to suggestions from front-line employees in all seven units about how to make the hospital safer, starting with this request from Bill Elliott, acting administrator of the hospital: "Please be honest with us.  We can't help you if we don't know what the issues are and we got a lot of helpful information."

Elliott said they heard more than 100 ideas, some of which can be done fairly quickly, easily and cheaply, such as having administrators be more visible and visit the wards more often.

The hospital is also considering changing the methods and the types of self-defense training they offer staff, who report one injury roughly every three days.

"The science is evolving, and the field is evolving and we'd like to learn from this experience and incorporate new things to help our staff stay safer," said Dr. Bill Sheehan, the hospital's medical director.

Employees have complained of inadequate training featuring a video that was produced in the 1980s.

The mental hospital is also looking at more aggressive medication management and speeding up risk assessments of dangerous patients.

"Once an event happens and the violence occurs, it's already too late to prevent, once it's occurred.  We really want to get better at assessing and preventing an early intervention so we don't get to this point," Sheehan said.

Sheehan added that the hospital plans to more quickly ask for "orders to treat" for some patients, which involves getting a judge to force someone to be medicated or get mental treatment when they refuse to do so.

Other improvements will take a lot of money, such as hiring more staff or building new facilities to replace some antiquated buildings constructed in the early 1950s. State health officials estimate the cost of building a new mental facility would be at least $1 million per bed.

When Hawaii News Now asked Elliott why it took our investigative report to get management at the facility to focus on safety, he made an interesting admission.

"What you did, I think, we appreciate.  Because we get so focused on doing our job day in and day-out.  And maybe we lost sight of the forest and now we have it back in sight," Elliott said.

Last week, a state OSHA workplace safety compliance officer spent two days interviewing State Hospital staff and reviewing records in a "workplace violence" probe that began in response to Hawaii News Now's investigation.

"We are cooperating with OSHA and they, I'm sure, will bring recommendations and things that we can do better, and we appreciate that," Elliott said.

Another serious assault that happened Thanksgiving Day, when a male nurse was punched in the face by a patient and two other staffers were hurt responding to that incident. The nurse suffered a broken nose, sources said.

That was a violent reminder that improvements need to happen soon.

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