Medical Facility Faces $207K Fine for Workplace Violence

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By Aaron Nicodemus

A Massachusetts psychiatric treatment center faces proposed worker safety fines of more than $200,000 for not adequately addressing workplace violence against its staff.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration proposed a total of $207,690 in penalties against the Lowell Treatment Center, operated by UHS of Westwood Pembroke, Inc. in Lowell, Mass., for failing to abate workplace violence, according to a news release.

Staff at the treatment center had been allegedly threatened, kicked, punched, scratched, and had their hair pulled by patients, according to the OSHA citation. The owners of the treatment center entered into a settlement agreement over workplace violence issues in 2016, and paid a fine of $9,000 in worker safety fines.

At the time, the company pledged to create a workplace safety program, which included a review of possible hazards such as unlocked doors or items that could be turned into weapons by patients; a system that reported and tracked incidents and allowed employees to report incidents of violence promptly; and identifying patients with a history of assaulting staff.

But in a June 2017 follow-up inspection, OSHA “found the center had failed to comply with multiple terms of its agreement, and that—despite previous citations and worker injuries—the risks of workers suffering fatal injury or serious harm had not been adequately addressed,” the news release said.

OSHA also cited the company for one repeat violation and three other-than-serious violations related to record keeping. In the repeat violation, the company failed to report a December 2016 attack by a patient that left a case manager with a “black eye, a scratched cornea, and bruises all over the body.” The employee missed 14 days of work because of the incident.

Other employees missed one day of work after being kneed in the abdomen by a patient, while another missed 15 days after receiving a concussion, the report said. Less serious assaults by patients on staff—scratching, punching, grabbing—were common.

UHS of Westwood Pembroke, Inc. has notified OSHA of its intent to contest the findings before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission, according to the news release. The company did not respond to Bloomberg BNA’s request for comment.

Workplace Violence Common in Healthcare

Workplace violence against health care employees continue to persist across the state, and not just in psychiatric hospitals, according to Donna Kelly-Williams, president of the Massachusetts Nurses Association.

“In general, we have seen an increase in the amount of workplace violence,” Kelly-Williams told Bloomberg BNA Aug. 14. “We’ve asked hospitals and other health care centers to implement policies to prevent attacks, but they have refused.”

Every year, the nurses’ union supports a bill in the Massachusetts General Court that will limit these attacks with “common-sense precautions,” she said. Some of the precautions include limiting visiting hours, checking for locked doors, and addressing other basic safety issues, she said.

Hospitals and health care institutions need to implement active enforcement programs, with staff who are trained together to deal with assaultive patients, according to Bonnie Castillo, health and safety director for National Nurses United, an Oakland, Calif.-based union and advocacy group representing 150,000 nurses across the country.

“Companies are always trying to cut back, and where they cut is staffing, education, and training, so that everyone is vulnerable in these situations,” she said. “They won’t implement these programs on their own. That’s why we will continue to push for these standards.”

According to an OSHA spokesman, the agency has conducted 17 workplace violence inspections in fiscal 2017.

Two bills ( H.1007 and S.1374) proposed in the Masschusetts’ House and Senate in January would require all health care employers to perform an annual safety risk assessment and—based on those findings—develop and implement programs to minimize the danger of workplace violence to employees and patients. Both have had hearings before legislative committees.

The Massachusetts Health & Hospital Association, a nonprofit group that lobbies on behalf of the state’s hospitals and health associations, opposes the bills.

“The proposed legislation could weaken safety precautions that now minimize risks for patients and healthcare personnel,” Pat Noga, the association’s vice president for clinical affairs, wrote in an email to Bloomberg BNA “The last thing that everyone who’s working collaboratively to ensure safe hospital environments needs is conflict and confusion, particularly when it could lead to a step backward.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Aaron Nicodemus in Boston at anicodemus@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Rachael Daigle at rdaigle@bna.com

For More Information

To read the report on violations at the center, visit http://src.bna.com/rEh.

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