ER nurses file workplace safety complaint over alleged violence against staff

Emergency department nurses at the Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital have filed a workplace safety complaint with state regulators, citing incidents of violence against staff in the department that they attribute to chronic understaffing and negligence by the hospital’s administration.

The complaint, filed on Oct. 18 with the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) among other things alleges that staff in that department have not been trained on workplace violence prevention since 2017 and are discouraged by management from reporting incidents of violence.

The complaint references an incident in the past year in which a man “entered the facility with a loaded weapon.” Staffers who filed the complaint said that they have no knowledge of whether “changes have been made in operating to avoid this occurring again.”

On Tuesday some two dozen emergency department nurses, doctors and other hospital workers rallied outside of the department’s entrance before addressing unsafe conditions at a Joint Conference Committee hearing held at the hospital.

“A lot of staff are getting beat up and hurt by patients but we don’t think it’s the patient’s fault. We think it’s a systemic problem that runs down to the fact that we have been chronically understaffed and overcrowded in this beautiful big hospital,” said Christa Duran, a registered nurse in the emergency department. “Many of the areas that you see aren’t equipped to take care of our vast number of homeless and drug addicted and mentally ill patients.”

The hospitals 58-bed trauma center last year saw some 70,000 patients. The hospital’s patient population is growing, and the levels of trauma experienced by patients entering the emergency department is increasing said Duran, but staffing levels are not meeting the current census and ensuring that staff are properly trained has not been a priority.

Durans said that the emergency department sees around 200 patients daily. On that average, the hospital over the past two weeks has had between 12 adn 15 primary emergency nurses assigned to serve The City in a disaster, according to Duran.

ZSFGH spokesperson Brent Andrew said that the administration has not received “any complaints filed with OSHA” and that the hospital does “have an active violence prevention plan.”

He said that “violent incidents are down roughly 10 percent from the same period in 2018” due to “the work of the Workplace Violence Prevention Committee” established late last year.

Nurses at the hospital allege that over 40 assaults occurred against staff members over the past year, but could not immediately provide data to support the allegation.

According to Duran, in the past two weeks, two nurses were struck in the face by a mental health patient.

“Another nurse was shoved to the ground so hard that she slid across the floor,” said Duran. In another incident, a patient threw a dinner tray at a nurse because he was unhappy that he was getting enough food,” she said.

Duran faulted the hospitals’ management for failing to provide wrap-around services for patients in need and de escalation training to staff.

The hospital’s 20-bed Psychiatric Emergency Services (PES) unit is “constantly overcrowded,” she said, adding that on any given day patients can be seen waiting in “gurneys in the hallway.”

Health Department Commissioner Edward Chow said that the JCC is scheduled to take up workplace safety issues at the hospital at an upcoming hearing on Dec. 10.

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Emergency room nurses at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital rally and march advocating for their safety in regards to mentally ill patients being kept in the ER due to a lack of beds for them on Tuesday, Oct. 22, 2019. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

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