Press Release

Following the Death of a RN Killed on the Job - CA Nurses Call For Better Protections

For Immediate Release
October 28, 2010

Assembly member Mary Hayashi to sponsor new bill

In the wake of the reported death of a registered nurse, who was assaulted Monday by an inmate at Contra Costa County’s correctional facility in Martinez, the California Nurses Association/National Nurses United today called for urgent reforms to crack down on a disturbing trend of violence in all facilities where medical care is provided.  Assembly member Mary Hayashi has pledged to sponsor new legislation to be introduced as early as December. 
 A statement was issued today by Contra Costa Regional Medical Center Chief Executive Officer Anna M. Roth, confirming that Cynthia Barraca Palomata, RN, a longtime employee of Contra Costa Health Services had died of her injuries. 
Workplace violence is a major public health concern that has grown substantially within the past decade. The healthcare industry constituted 45 percent of the two million incidents of workplace violence that occurred annually in the U.S. between 1993 and 1999 – the highest of all other sectors, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
While California did enact a law in 1993 requiring hospitals to have a security plan in place for general acute-care hospitals, the law did not cover correctional facilities.
At Contra Costa County, for example, the RNs, who are represented by CNA, have repeatedly called for stronger security measures to protect staff, especially in the jail, psych unit, and emergency room where, they say, too many incidents have already occurred.
Yet hospital officials rejected a CNA proposal during bargaining in 2008 for regular meetings to address security concerns specific to the detention center, and requests for the facility to station a sheriff at the ER at all times and to set up metal detectors and other security devices in the ER and psychiatric unit.   
“We can no longer tolerate inadequate security measures which threaten not only RNs and other staff, but also put families and other patients at risk,” said Kay McVay, RN, CNA’s president emeritus and a longtime Contra Costa County resident.        
In addition to hospitals and other medical facilities doing more to assure safety measures, McVay said legislators should also act. CNA suggested new legislation may be needed that would require all correctional facilities to have strong security plans in place to protect healthcare personnel, better reporting requirements on incidents of workplace violence, and tough penalties for employers that fail to comply with security plan requirements.

In July, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick signed a bill promoted by the Massachusetts Nurses Association, an NNU affiliate, to stiffen penalties for those who assault nurses and other healthcare workers. More than a dozen other states have also moved to enact stronger penalties and/or workplace violence prevention programs.
An Emergency Nurses Association survey released in 2009 found that more than 50 percent of ER nurses had experienced violence by patients on the job and more than 25 percent had experienced 20 or more violent incidents in the past three years. Research showed long wait times, a shortage of nurses, drug and alcohol use by patients, and treatment of psychiatric patients all contributed to violence in the ER. 

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health Administration (NIOSH) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) define workplace violence as any physical assault, threatening behavior, or verbal abuse occurring in the workplace. Violence includes overt and covert behaviors ranging in aggressiveness from verbal harassment to murder. 

“Violence claims a significant toll on all,” said McVay. In addition to the physical, emotional, and mental effects on the victim, other negative effects include: financial loss resulting from insurance claims, lost productivity, legal expenses, property damage, and possible staff replacement costs.

“Prevention is essential for creating a safe and therapeutic environment for patients and a safer workplace for healthcare workers, and to reduce the loss of experienced staff who leave because of assaults and threats of violence,” McVay said.