Workplace safety is a must for healthcare workers, but a second-year psychiatry resident at Pennsylvania Hospital says her employers failed to keep her safe on the job. She was stabbed repeatedly earlier this year after one of her patients grabbed a knife from a nearby lunch tray and began attacking the doctor.
Now, she’s suing the facility for its disregard for physician safety.
A Harrowing Attack
The complaint, filed in court last week, shows just how dangerous being a doctor can be. The second-year resident is named only as “Dr. A” for privacy reasons and “fear of repercussion and…public judgment given the culture of concealment among medical providers,” according to her lawyers. The accused individual is named as Rakeem Anderson. Records show he had been admitted to the neurology floor several times before the day of the attack.
The confrontation began when Dr. A and a medical student came into the room to tell Anderson that he wasn’t being discharged. That’s when he grabbed the knife and stabbed her repeatedly across the neck and face.
She managed to push the med student out of the room just before the patient pulled her hair, yanked her back, and started punching her – all while around 10 to 15 of her colleagues looked on from the nursing station nearby. The doctor is still recovering from her injuries.
In the complaint, Dr. A says there were no guards or staff around that could have helped prevent the stabbing. There also weren’t any panic buttons installed that she could have used to call for help. Her lawyers say that the staff didn’t seem to know how to respond to the violent incident. It wasn’t over until Dr. A managed to break away from the patient and a nurse called 9-1-1.
Within hours after the incident, the hospital issued a statement saying, “there was no danger at any time to other patients and staff at the hospital,” and that “hospital operations continue as usual.”
The lawyers for Dr. A also allege that the hospital failed to address doctor-patient safety concerns, despite reports of increasing attacks against healthcare workers during COVID-19.
It also took several days for anyone from the hospital to reach out to the doctor following the attack. Since then, other staff members have come forward with their own safety concerns, but the facility has yet to take any specific actions.
“Doctors make sacrifices every day for the health and well-being of their patients,” said Brett J. Kaminsky, one of Dr. A’s lawyers. “They should not have to sacrifice their own safety to perform their job. This attack was no isolated incident, as previously stated by the hospital. It is a well-known problem in the medical field that is unreported due to a culture of silence.”
A History of Violence
This isn’t the first time a healthcare worker has been attacked at Penn Hospital.
Aja Harper, a registered nurse at the facility, says she was attacked in 2018 when a patient lunged at her, pinned her down, and tried to strangle her. She also sued the hospital. The suit alleged that the facility failed to make sure the patient, who had a history of violent behavior, was properly strapped down before she entered the room.
Harper’s suit was withdrawn about a month after it was filed in court. Her attorney refused to comment on whether she had reached a settlement with the hospital.
It’s not clear if Dr. A will be more successful in her pursuit for justice. Her lawyers are asking for $250,000 in damages for negligence, civil assault and battery, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The doctor is still suffering from PTSD, physical trauma, nightmares, and flashbacks of the incident. The suit names the trustees of the University of Pennsylvania, the hospital’s security team, and Anderson as defendants.
It looks like Penn Hospital needs to do more to keep its staff safe from harm on the job. Studies show healthcare workers are around nine times more likely to be victims of intentional workplace violence than those in other sectors.
No one should have to worry about getting stabbed on the job. If you don’t feel safe on the job, raise your concerns before putting yourself at risk.