SEATTLE — Dozens of Seattle nurses at Seattle Children’s Hospital are demanding change after a number of nurses allegedly suffered injuries from patients due to a lack of support and resources from management.
SEATTLE CHILDREN’S PSYCHIATRY AND BEHAVIORAL MEDICINE UNIT:
Leaders with the Washington State Nurses Association shared a press release about the alleged incidents.
They described Seattle Children’s Hospital’s Psychiatry and Behavioral Medicine Unit as a “combat zone.”
In a span of two weeks, Seattle police told KIRO 7 that they were called to the hospital’s unit twice.
On November 7, police said a 14-year-old boy was arrested for assaulting a medical staff member, destroying property, and armed himself with a metal pole in the Psychiatry and Behavioral Medicine Unit of the hospital.
One staff member suffered minor injuries.
Staff told police the teenage boy had convinced another patient to steal an access badge from hospital staff, which allowed them to access prohibited areas of the building, police said.
One staff member was put in a headlock, police added.
Another incident happened on November 17 where three to four children in the behavioral unit reportedly tore off ceiling tiles and threw them at staff members, Seattle police told KIRO 7.
Officers were called to the scene around 7:40 p.m.
“I’m exhausted from constantly reacting to dangerous behaviors and trying to prevent serious harm,” a nurse on the unit, Henry Jones, said in the press release. “In our current state, I feel like I’m functioning more like a bouncer or a prison guard.”
KIRO 7 spoke with a couple of nurses within the unit to better understand the situation.
“When I come in and instead of being excited to talk with the kids, I’m scared. I’m scared not only for myself, but the people I’m leading,” said a charge nurse within the Psychiatry and Behavioral Medicine Unit, Tasha Vederoff.
Vederoff stressed that the children are not the issue.
“These kids need us. These kids need us. They have nowhere to go and they’re hurt, and they’re broken and they’re desperate,” she said. “I don’t want these patients to been seen as the villain. They’re kids. They’re children who are hurting. They’re kids who have been in the foster care system. They’re kids who have been abused. Kids who are traumatized and are confused and hopeless. So they’re not the villains. They’re not the bad guys, but they need help and they need support and at this point, we can’t give it to them because we’re trying to keep everyone safe.”
She said a number of nurses within the unit have been injured, while working on the job, due to the lack of resources and support provided by hospital’s management.
“We have nurses who had their hair grabbed and head swung around. We’ve had nurses get put in chokeholds and get punched repeatedly. I have scars on my body from being bit, and being punched in the face and kicked,” she described.
Vederoff shared a photo of her injury with us.
Josh Pickett, a charge nurse within the unit, said he is also struggling to find nurses to fill each shift as many have been calling out sick due to the current crisis.
“We have a huge retention issue,” Pickett said. “We’ve had almost the bulk of our nurses have quit already, who have not been out of training or who have just finished their orientation,” he shared.
He said the lack of resources from management has created a dangerous environment that affects the safety of patients and staff.
“Sends fear into I think myself and a lot of other people who work on the unit that somebody might die due to the lack of resources. Due to the lack of inadequate space,” he said.
CALL FOR CHANGES:
Leaders with the Washington State Nurses Association said nurses had asked management to talk before Thanksgiving, however, they denied the request. Management said they were available to talk on December 13, leaders with the association added.
After management had requested a later date to talk, leaders of the association said violence within the unit escalated during the holiday weekend.
“The delay has put patients’ lives at risk. We sent out an email asking for a response, and the night we sent that email out, we had to call police to the unit,” Vederoff said. “The longer they take to respond, the more people are going to get hurt and the worse it’s going to get.”
“I haven’t had anyone from higher leadership talk to any of us nurses who are asking for help,” she continued.
Nurses are asking for the following changes from management to address the short-term issue, according to the WSNA press release:
- Three safety officers to work during the dayside shifts.
- Three additional nurses work the overnight shifts.
- Three additional nurses
- A maximum nurse-to-patient ratio of 1:8.
- Double pay during the crisis to encourage nurses to remain on staff.
According to the press release, 44 nurses signed a letter to Seattle Children’s management on November 17, urging for help on the unit.
“Staff work in a persistent state of fear as they come into each shift expecting violence and debilitating abuse,” the nurses wrote in the press release. “Patient care has been compromised to an extent that our milieu is no longer therapeutic, but rather dangerous and detrimental for all who enter the PBMU, staff and patients alike. The unfortunate reality of the unit is an exponentially increasing risk of a sentinel event if the PBMU is left to continue operating under its current conditions.”
“The demands that we’ve made are incredibly important to keep our unit safe right now. And these are the things we know might not solve the systemic issues, the bigger picture things, but we know if we had these things on our unit, it could help us keep people safe,” said Vederoff.
SEATTLE CHILDREN’S HOSPITAL:
KIRO 7 reached out to Seattle Children’s Hospital and requested an on-camera interview. A spokesperson for the hospital declined our request and shared the following statement.
Our country is facing an escalating youth mental and behavioral health crisis and the demand for services remains alarmingly high. The safety, security and well-being of Seattle Children’s patients and workforce is our top priority and we have intensified efforts over the past several months to address this demand. Last month, we opened an Emergency Operations Center in response to the mental health crisis, to streamline communication and decision-making and immediately address concerns. Seattle Children’s has brought in additional staffing resources and increased both leader and security presence on the Psychiatry and Behavioral Medicine Unit (PBMU). The team is also actively seeking travel nurses to provide supplemental staffing and patient care.
While these critical steps support the immediate safety of our workforce and patients, Seattle Children’s cannot solve this crisis alone. This work is ongoing, and we are actively collaborating with external partners at the local, state, and federal level to identify and eliminate barriers and find rapid solutions to address the extremely high number of patients seeking care for mental and behavioral health crises across the state. Greater investment in youth mental health is critical to build a pediatric mental health system that encompasses upstream prevention to the highest acuity and complexity to meet the needs of Washington’s youth.
Leaders with the Washington State Nurses Association said they will be holding a candlelight vigil to raise awareness of workplace violence at Seattle Children’s Hospital on December 12, at Laurelhurst Playfield.
The event will take place the night before the Nurse Conference Committee meeting, which will include hospital leadership, they added.
The event will include speakers along with a walk to the hospital.
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