HARTFORD – Marla Cambell, an emergency room nurse at Bristol Hospital, said she was sitting at the charge nurse desk a few months ago when a patient ran from his room and began choking her colleague, a nurse technician named Scotty.
The patient, according to Campbell, was over six feet tall and weighed more than 200 pounds. When security finally arrived it took about 10 people to pry the patient off her. Campbell had scratches along her arms and hands, and Scotty was sent for a CAT scan.
“Both Scotty and I pressed charges against this man for the brutal and unprovoked attack, but there was radio silence afterwards. We were never assured that legal repercussions were underway. The judicial system has continued to fail us,” she said.
Cambell and several other nurses from Bristol and Middlesex Hospitals testified to the state legislature’s Public Health Committee, recounting what they described as increasingly violent behavior aimed at healthcare workers. The nurses spoke in support of a bill that would offer security grants to hospitals, establish protocols for when hospital staff can ask a violent patient to leave and launch a public service campaign encouraging people to treat healthcare workers well.
Campbell, who has been a nurse for 18 years, said verbal and physical abuse of nurses is “an everyday occurrence” at her work.
“Even before COVID, but definitely since COVID, the amount of disrespect and violence that occurs on a day-to-day basis in our hospitals is unbelievable,” said Nancy LaMonica, the chief nursing officer for Bristol Health.
State Rep. Christine Palm, D-Chester, asked the nurses why they believed these assaults were increasing over the last few years, questioning whether it could be a reaction to misinformation about COVID or a reflection of increased mental health or general anxiety.
“I think it would be worth it if we could somehow together get at the root of what is driving this increase,” said Palm.
State Sen. Saud Anwar, D-South Windsor, said he supported the bill and the need to protect healthcare workers. But he said he thought the biggest challenge would be how to address the people who were mentally ill or suffering from substance abuse.
“From the administration point of view, telling somebody who has got delirium and they’re being aggressive, [it] is going to be a bit of a challenge to say, ‘Hey, Mr. Smith, you are delirious. You are out.’ And that’s why you need a solution on the inpatient setting, in the emergency room and admitted rooms, to have protection for the nursing staff,” said Anwar.
But LaMonica said that while some of the patients who assaulted healthcare staff were mentally ill or had substance abuse issues, many were not. And Campbell said that it wasn’t just patients — it was also family members and friends who were visiting who were responsible for some of the assaults.
“It’s not just behavioral health, it’s somebody having no control over their behavior at a certain moment,” said LaMonica.
Campbell also underscored the lack of follow through from the criminal justice system when the nurses report assaults.
“I have filed charges in the last six years at least three times on different people, and I have never been called and the assailants have never been charged or prosecuted for it,” said Campbell, who noted that assaulting a healthcare worker is a felony in the state of Connecticut.
Another nurse, who gave her name as Jennifer, said that some nurses were afraid to report the incidents for fear that their assailants could get their personal information.
“It takes an act of bravery and courage to give your first and last name and your address, knowing that your attacker is going to have this personal information of yours,” said Jennifer.
State Sen. Henri Martin, R-Bristol, said that the bill did not include a provision that would strengthen the judicial system’s role in prosecuting people who assault healthcare workers, and recommended that the Public Health Committee add that to the bill.
LaMonica said that the healthcare workers were afraid for their lives.
“That’s why I want to make sure that you really hear our voices. Because as a community hospital we never would have put up medical detectors. Now we can’t live without them, to have our profession sustained,” she said.