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Legacy Health vows changes after killing. Nurses and others say it’s not enough.

The health system promises better security, but nurses want 24-7 coverage and additional protections after an uptick in local attacks on health workers
A pile of flowers and a note eulogizing Bobby Smallwood, a security officer for Legacy Health, sit outside the Good Samaritan Medical Center, where he was killed during a confrontation on July 30, 2023. | JAKE THOMAS/THE LUND REPORT
July 31, 2023

This story has been updated with additional reporting and context. 

Legacy Health has promised more metal detectors, Taser-armed security officers and other measures in response to the fatal shooting of a security guard. But Oregon’s largest nurses union and members of the hospital system’s staff say the measures don’t go far enough. 

Kathryn Correia, the health system’s president and CEO, issued an open letter Saturday to address growing safety concerns from staff after security officer Bobby Smallwood died confronting a visitor at Good Samaritan Medical Center who had reportedly threatened hospital employees.

Legacy issued the letter  the same day a group of nurses, other health care workers and their supporters rallied outside Good Samaritan to pressure Legacy’s management on safety. A flier advertising the rally demanded a more expansive list of safety measures, including more security officers, restricted access to parking garages and zero tolerance for violent or threatening behavior. “It is time for employers to take the safety of staff and patients seriously!” it read.

The rally and Correia’s response aired safety issues that have been a longstanding source of tension between Legacy’s management and staff. Safety conditions for health care workers in Oregon are increasingly a focus after the recent shooting at Good Samaritan and after a Cascadia Health mental health aide was stabbed to death in a residential home in July. 

“Over the past week, our hearts have been heavy with grief and sadness in the wake of the tragic shooting that occurred at Legacy Good Samaritan Medical Center,” Correia wrote in her letter. 

Correia wrote that on Saturday Legacy held a moment of silence “to grieve together, support each other and honor our memory of Bobby and his dedication to protecting others.”

In her letter, Correria committed to three actions Legacy would take immediately. Those included requiring all visitors to enter “through controlled access points with metal detection and bag search.” The health system will begin installing metal detectors with bag search at each of Legacy’s six hospitals beginning next week, according to the letter. 

Legacy will also install bullet-slow film on hospital main entrances, emergency departments and on glass in internal entrances, Correria said. Additionally, Legacy has equipped its lead security officers with Tasers and will distribute the less-than-lethal weapons to all officers who complete training and certification, according to the letter. 

But those at Saturday’s rally wanted Legacy to go further, demanding security and metal detectors at all entrances, as well as around-the-clock security staffing and zero tolerance for threatening or violent behavior. 

“Every health care system and hospital administration in Oregon is responsible for protecting the safety of health care workers and our patients,” Kevin Mealy, spokesperson for the Oregon Nurses Association, told The Lund Report in an email. “Yet this is what it took to force Legacy into action. Every health care worker has a half dozen stories of workplace violence they’ve seen or experienced. And it’s only getting worse.”

Mealy pointed to research showing that on average 57 nurses are assaulted each day in the U.S. He pointed to another study showing that hospital nurses reported facing increased physical violence and verbal abuse from patients, and visitors compared to before the pandemic.

The nurses association has made organizing Legacy workers a focus, scoring recent successes at Legacy Mount Hood Medical Center and the Unity Center for Behavioral Health.

A Legacy spokesperson declined to provide further comment on safety to The Lund Report beyond the system’s public letter.

In response to increasing violence facing its employees, Legacy backed legislation in 2022 that would make assaulting a health care worker a Class C felony punishable by up to five years imprisonment and a fine of $125,000. 

“Unfortunately, intentional violence against hospital workers by patients, their families, and other visitors is increasing at an alarming rate, despite our best efforts and extensive staff training to secure and defuse potentially violent situations,” Correia said in written testimony. “This is not just a Legacy Health problem, or a State of Oregon problem, but a disturbing national trend.”

Teddy Glemser, a registered nurse, wasn’t at the rally and was working as charge nurse at the emergency department at Legacy Mount Hood Medical Center in Gresham Friday and Saturday. She told The Lund Report that Legacy staff has been uneasy since the killing of the security officer last week.  

“I didn’t feel any better with the statements they were making with regards to improving safety,” she said, in response to Correria’s letter. 

While working over the weekend, she said there should have been three security officers scheduled for the hospital with another posted at the metal detector. But she said the number of security officers dropped to two or three during her shifts. 

Glemser, who has worked as a nurse for 10 years, said that verbal and physical assaults on health care workers have become so routine that she can’t remember all the times patients have assaulted her. She said that during her shift she keeps in mind which male staff members are in her department who she could turn to if there is a violent incident. 

When asked how Legacy could improve safety, Glemser said the health system needs to increase its number of armed security officers and limit the entrances patients and visitors can use. But she said additional security officers will be hard to find. 

“There is nobody that is willing to step up and take on that position,” she said. 

You can reach Jake Thomas at [email protected] or via Twitter @jakethomas2009.