At least one emergency department nurse at a Vancouver hospital received death threats over notes in a patient’s chart, triggering a law enforcement investigation involving the FBI, according to a Washington state nurses union.
Last week management at PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center learned of threats posted online, according to statements issued by the hospital and the Washington State Nurses Association. Details about how many nurses received the threats remained murky as of Monday.
The situation unfolded amid heightened concern over increasing assaults on nurses and other health care workers nationally and in the Pacific Northwest. Last summer, Legacy Good Samaritan Hospital security officer Bobby Smallwood was killed by a man staff had asked to leave.
The nurses union issued a statement calling the threats against nurses “terrifying” and an “unacceptable breach of safety and security.”
Management at the 450-bed facility has responded with added security, according to a Jan. 19 email sent to staff by Tracey Fernandez, PeaceHealth Southwest’s interim CEO. She wrote that comments posted to a TikTok video threatened “an unidentified caregiver” in the emergency department
She added that, “The safety and security of our caregivers is our top priority, and we take this threat very seriously.”
After becoming aware of the threat, hospital management contacted local law enforcement and notified the Washington State Department of Health, Fernandez wrote.
Hospital security is conducting additional patrols in the emergency department, and staff can request an escort to their car at the end of their shift, she wrote.
Hospital employees should “exercise prudent safety and security practices at home as well as at work” and call 911 and drive to the nearest police station if they worry they are being followed in their vehicle, she wrote. She added, “Always check the interior of your vehicle prior to getting in.”
The union’s statement indicated that more than one emergency department nurse received death threats, but didn’t specify how many. The statement described the threats as related to “something written in a patient’s chart.”
“Nurses must be able to chart truthfully and accurately for the sake of safe patient care,” reads the statement. “Their notes in a patient’s chart should never be weaponized against nurses as they were here.”
Department spokesperson Frank Ameduri told The Lund Report that the agency is aware of the incident. But he said that unless the person making the threat is a licensed practitioner, the department doesn’t have jurisdiction.
A spokesperson for Vancouver Police said the agency was unable to comment on the investigation. FBI spokesperson Amy Alexander declined to confirm or deny the agency’s involvement in an email to The Lund Report.
The threatening TikTok video comments have been removed, Alison Taylor, PeaceHealth Southwest spokesperson, told The Lund Report in an email. In a follow-up email, she added, “Our understanding is there were multiple comments threatening a single, unidentified caregiver.”
While it’s unclear what led up to the incident, TikTok accounts dedicated to nursing have buzzed about the situation.
An Instagram user known as Nurse Erica posted a video from a TikTok user about the threats at PeaceHealth. It included a screenshot of a comment from a TikTok user threatening harm to a nurse “because of what she wrote in my chart.” Other similar comments were also shared online.
In 2021 a new federal law required patient access to health care providers’ notes, something that had already been adopted by many health systems and insurers following a long campaign by the Open Notes movement seeking to improve care.
But at times that access has been a source of friction. An Oregon patient sued her doctors for defamation for describing her in medical records as suspicious because she was seeking a prescription for methadone, an opioid, to treat nervous conditions. After two courts ruled against her, the Oregon Supreme Court ruled last year that her case could proceed.
Taylor said in her email that caregivers’ full names no longer appeared in patients’ records on MyChart after a 2022 policy change. The exception is for medical doctors, osteopaths, physician assistants and nurse practitioners, she said.
The nurses union is one of the largest health care unions in Washington state, representing more than 14,000 workers. Those include about 1,480 nurses at PeaceHealth Southwest who recently began bargaining for a new contract. The union issued the statement after union negotiators met with management on Friday.
According to the statement, PeaceHealth’s investigation involves the hospital’s internal risk and compliance teams and nurses are encouraged to share any information with law enforcement.