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National Guard Member Assaulted By Oregon State Hospital Patient

This was the first assault by a patient on a National Guard member the hospital has recorded since 30 National Guard members began working on June 24 to help stem a staffing shortage.
July 22, 2021

A National Guard member required medical care after being punched in the head repeatedly by an Oregon State Hospital patient while working on July 11.

It’s the first assault by a patient on a National Guard member the hospital has recorded since 30 National Guard members began working on June 24 to help stem a staffing shortage, hospital spokeswoman Rebeka Gipson-King said.

An incident report the hospital provided to Salem Reporter said the guard member was doing rounds around 10 p.m. near the doors to the Butterfly unit, which houses geriatric patients.

“Patient brutally attacked … National Guard Staff,” the report reads. “[Patient] ran down the hall to the end and pinned him near the door and began punching him in the head and upper body several times. [Staff 2], [Staff 3], [Staff 4] ran yelling 'Stop' but [Patient] was unable to redirect and continued hitting him.”

The report said it was the patient’s seventh assault in six days. The patient was pulled off and escorted to a seclusion room.

Gipson-King said the National Guard member was seen by a doctor and his injuries were recorded as “major soreness, cuts or large bruises.” He was not admitted to the hospital and was back at work the next day, she said. His injuries were classified as moderate in the hospital’s system, which records assaults as mild, moderate or severe.

She said the patient’s treatment team is putting together a safety plan to address the repeated assaults.

“Every time we have a patient who is acting in an aggressive manner on a regular basis we will put a treatment plan in place,” she said.

Oregon State Hospital is operated by the Oregon Health Authority and cares for about 500 Oregonians with severe mental illnesses. It has struggled to maintain adequate staffing during the Covid pandemic, particularly in the spring as the number of employees out on Covid-related leave climbed.

That prompted hospital leaders to declare a staffing crisis in late May and put out a call for National Guard members to help care for patients. The hospital signed a $1.2 million contract to deploy 30 guard members from June 7 through the end of July. Guard members received training and began working on hospital units on June 24.

The guard members assigned to the hospital are not licensed nurses, as hospital leaders originally requested.

Gipson-King said earlier in the year hospital employees typically took Covid leave because of childcare or caregiving responsibilities. State employees could no longer take that leave starting July 1 after Gov. Kate Brown lifted nearly all of the state’s pandemic restrictions.

Since late June, the number of nursing hours unfilled fell by more than half, Gipson-King said. She said employees were unavailable for about 514 scheduled work hours on July 14 because of reasons including illness or vacation, compared with 1,176 on June 26.

Gipson-King said she couldn’t say whether the presence of unfamiliar or new employees were a contributing factor to the July 11 assault, but said in general, high numbers of new employees can cause patients to escalate.

“It’s always better to have staff who are familiar with patients working with them because they know what works,” she said.

The hospital saw an increase in staff injuries caused by patients in June, recording 13 total moderate or severe assaults. That’s up from six in April and eight in May. In 2019, the hospital averaged 9.1 moderate or severe assaults per month, according to data provided to Salem Reporter.

“Code Green” calls, which are made when staff need assistance with a behavioral issue, are also up compared to the same period in 2020. From May 1 to July 14, hospital employees called Code Green 286 times, compared to 236 calls in the same period last year.

Gipson-King said she couldn’t explain why the numbers had increased.

Contact reporter Rachel Alexander: [email protected] or 503-575-1241.