An employee of a staffing agency struck an Oregon State Hospital patient in the head several times with a closed fist during an altercation on March 23, public records obtained by The Lund Report show.
The state barred the temporary aide from returning to the psychiatric facility, but an outside advocacy agency has investigated the situation and the patient’s family is now considering suing the state. Meanwhile, the state police are investigating.
The situation is significant because the short-staffed hospital relies on outside contracted assistance to augment full-time workers. Already, the state has faced numerous lawsuits alleging violation of patients’ civil rights.
“The state hospital must be a safe place for the patients and people who work there,” said Jake Cornett, executive director and CEO of Disability Rights Oregon, in a statement. “Only in a setting free of violence is meaningful treatment possible. Our staff are on the ground monitoring the situation at the State Hospital and will be closely following the investigation that flows from this incident.”
The group, which is empowered to investigate complaints, has interviewed the patient and reviewed the incident reports obtained by The Lund Report.
Outside workers key to state hospital
The state hospital has relied heavily on outside contracted staff like Jogan Health amid shortages during the pandemic. Oregon state officials also contracted with Jogan to deploy its nurses and other health workers to hospitals and long-term care facilities across the state amid a healthcare workforce shortage during the pandemic. The state’s contract with Jogan for those services, as of November, had a limit of $250 million. Thirty Jogan workers are assigned to Oregon State Hospital.
Jogan officials didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
The state-run psychiatric hospital in Salem serves more than 500 patients each day and it has come under scrutiny for its ability to complete timely admissions of patients who need treatment to face pending criminal charges. In response to staffing struggles, state lawmakers in the last session designated $10 million to turn 134 temporary nursing positions into permanent jobs and add another 94 positions.
Public records shed light on the details of the altercation and how it unfolded.
Altercation Unfolds Quickly
The altercation started at about 8 p.m. on March 23. A patient was in a kitchenette and asked about getting a different meal, incident reports show.
As the contracted mental health technician walked into a kitchenette area to get a tea for a different patient, he bumped into the patient, but didn’t say anything, according to a report filled out by a National Guard member.
“You just bumped me!” the patient said, according to that account.
“No I didn’t,” the contracted staffer said, according to the report, which has the names redacted.
According to the statement, the patient then called the contracted worker a racist epithet, and said: “Do you want me to throw my shit at you?”
The Guard member unsuccessfully attempted to verbally deescalate the situation, according to the statement.
The patient threw the salad at Banks, the report said. The Guard member blocked it from hitting that worker and it fell to the floor.
The worker then “lunged” at the patient and hit the patient with a closed fist three times in the right side of the mouth and jaw area, according to the report.
As the patient ducked and the Guard member attempted to get in between them and the contract worker, the worker reached over with two fists to hit the patient in the back of the head and back multiple times, the report said.
Other staff responded and separated the patient and contracted worker. The patient attempted to follow the contracted worker to the nurses station, but was stopped by staff, the report said.
‘Fear For My Life’
Nurses who examined the patient saw small amounts of blood around his teeth and his face had redness and was warm to the touch, the report said. The patient declined pain medication and ice. Eventually, other staff helped the patient calm down in a separate room and urged him not to use racial epithets.
The contracted worker provided a different version of events, according to another section of the incident report. The patient was blocking the entrance to the kitchenette and screamed at him when he walked past, the contracted worker said.
“(The patient) threw his dinner at me and proceeded to attack me,” the worker’s statement said. “I was in fear for my life because this is my first time working with the criminally insane. I didn't know what he was capable of so I defended myself.”
The worker was not injured, records show.
Fallout From Altercation
The incident report noted that doors had been propped open at the time of the incident, creating a security issue.
In an email, Oregon Health Authority spokesperson Aria Seligmann said no policy changes are necessary due to the incident, adding that the case involved a “staff performance issue, not policy or training deficiency.” Staff behavior that deviates from policies and protocols is addressed by managers and human resources, Seligmann said.
In a March 25 notice, the health authority informed Jogan Health that its contracted mental health technician had been banned from the state hospital.
“He was witnessed to assault a patient by punching them in the face 3 times,” the notice says. “He has been removed from our facility and instructed not to return.”
In an interview with The Lund Report, the patient’s mother said they’re exploring legal options and had asked Oregon State Police to investigate. The mother asked The Lund Report to not print her full name to protect her adult child’s privacy.
In an email, Oregon State Police Capt. Stephanie Bigman said: “There is an open case and it is still under investigation.”
The Oregon Health Authority, in response to a public records request, released a 343-page training document for all new employees.
It includes details like how to use calm language and “manage the conversation to a non-violent resolution through use of key phrases.”
“Ask, don’t command,” the training manual says. “Leave pride and ego at home.”
Those records also show a 13-day orientation and training schedule for Guard members in June 2021, when the Guard’s mission first started.
The Guard members help with activities such as serving patients meals, escorting patients to activities and assisting hospital staff and patients with daily living activities.They aren’t required to be licensed medical workers, as they work in a support role.
That orientation included de-escalating techniques, drills and policy overviews.
The Oregon National Guard’s mission started as a 67-day deployment scheduled to end in August 2021 with a $1.2 million budget, contract records show.
Since then, the mission grew longer amid a shortage of staff and the omicron surge of COVID-19. The mission’s cost is now limited to $4.9 million, with its end scheduled for June 30. Thirty Guard members are deployed there.