Two healthcare workers are in the hospital after a violent stabbing at SSM Health DePaul Hospital in St. Louis, MO. Nurses at the facility are calling out their employers for not taking their security concerns seriously. They say they have been sounding the alarm over the lack of safety protocols in place for patients and staff, and now two of their own are in critical condition.
The nurses have called on the facility to increase security for years by adding more guards and a metal detector at the entrance, but the company didn’t take their concerns seriously.
“This is something that we have been begging for help for, for years,” said one registered nurse at DePaul who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retribution.
The SSM health system oversees 23 hospitals across four states. In a statement, the company said it takes staff safety extremely seriously and has a zero tolerance for violence and aggression of any kind. The system said it is currently evaluating the incident in question and is seeking input from staff on how to improve security.
“Sadly, violence against healthcare workers is a national crisis impacting all hospitals and health systems,” the health system said in the statement.
The nurses at SSM Health DePaul say they weren’t surprised when they heard a nurse and paramedic had been stabbed by a patient in the ER.
The patient, Jimissa Rivers, has been charged with two counts of first-degree assault and two counts of armed criminal action. She is currently in custody on a $2 million bail.
Many nurses say they have experienced instances of physical and verbal abuse at the hands of patients. Some have been chocked, punched, and sexually assaulted.
“(SSM) had all the warnings they could possibly need. This was 100% preventable,” said one SSM nurse who previously worked at DePaul. “When you’re working at DePaul, you’re literally walking down the halls looking over your shoulder.”
The nurses say there is no security checkpoint at the ER, which means nurses are often responsible for confiscating weapons. The staff says the hospital would often focus more on the actions of the provider after an assault instead of trying to prevent it from happening again.
“One of the first things they are going to ask the nurse and paramedic is ‘What could you have done better?’” said Samuel Shaefer, who left his position at the emergency room in October 2020 because of safety concerns. “They will reprimand the paramedic for getting involved and trying to help their colleague.”
“We had to put ourselves in harm’s way to protect each other,” he added.
The hospital has several security guards on staff, but they are often stretched thin and can’t respond quickly in an emergency. The guards also say they aren’t paid enough to risk their lives on the job.
Sara Marcello, former emergency room and trauma services director at DePaul, said she asked the administration for more security on several occasions and was turned down every time.
“At one point they told me if I didn’t stop bringing it up there would be a change in leadership,” she said.
Attacks on healthcare workers have become more common since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Patients often feel scared or anxious in the ER, while others may be intoxicated or suffering from a mental health condition.
“We have seen a rise in violence as people become more and more frustrated with their disease state, and their lack of control over the pandemic,” said Jason Grellner, Mercy’s executive director of public safety. “And for some, it became a very political issue, an ideological issue.”
SSM said it follows national best practices on workplace violence policies and training. It has workplace violence committees at its hospitals, on-site security, and state-of-the-art video surveillance in its emergency departments, but experts say that isn’t enough.
The hospital defended its decision not to put a metal detector in the ER.
“Metal detectors have not been standard at emergency rooms across the healthcare industry, but adoption rates are on the rise,” the statement said.
However, several nearby hospitals, including JC HealthCare Barnes-Jewish Hospital and St. Louis Children’s Hospital have metal detectors in place.
The nurses at DePaul are doing their part to help their colleagues that were injured in the attack. They recently set up a GoFundMe to raise money for their care.