PORTLAND, Ore. – Nearly a year after the KATU Investigators found that patient-on-employee violence at Oregon State Hospital was a substantial problem, the House Judiciary Committee heard a bill on Monday that would give workers some protection.
The bill would make it a felony to attack hospital workers, just as it is to attack a paramedic or a bus or taxi driver.
The hearing comes one week after a vicious attack on Emily Mallorie, who works in mental-health therapy at OSH.
“A patient who had made it very clear in the last month that he does not like me, we were standing there and he said ‘I want to punch you in the face,’” Mallorie said. “And before I could react or anything … he punched me in the face.”
The punch left her with a concussion, and sprained her jaw and the vertebrae at the base of her neck.
It also put her in good but unfortunate company.
KATU’s investigation last year uncovered hospital data that showed patients had been aggressive toward hospital employees 698 times in 2012 – an average of nearly two incidents a day.
READ: KATU obtained the latest data on patient attacks at OSH on Monday. More here.
The punishment in most cases is the equivalent of a timeout.
Mallorie said she’s OK facing threats from patients who can’t process right and wrong, but that the scope of the problem goes well beyond that.
“It's not the ones who are not with it that we're worried about,” she said. “That's why we work there, is to help people like that.
“It's the people who are knowingly choosing to hit us, knowing they don't have consequences. And so if they do have consequences, I believe it's going to protect us a lot.”
The bill, sponsored by state Rep. Brian Clem, D-Salem, would make it a felony for a state hospital patient to knowingly or intentionally cause physical harm to hospital employees.
“If you can change the outcome for them from ‘Oh, I'm going to be told to stop doing that,’ to ‘I'm going to go to jail, real prison, I'm out of the hospital and now I'm in prison’ - I think the numbers (of attacks) will go down drastically,” Clem said.
Clem sponsored a similar unsuccessful bill next year, but said this one has a better chance because it provides funding for prosecuting such case.
“I think it will pass out of committee, I think it will pass the house floor,” he said. “I don't have a good read yet on the Senate because I haven't actually tried talking to senators about it.”
Updated data show aggressive incidents were down slightly in 2013, but the bill can’t come soon enough for Mallorie. Hospital data show about 10 patients are responsible for nearly a third of the acts of aggression.
“I mean I don't get hit every day, but people are getting hurt at the state hospital every day,” she said. “Because of how it is right now, it seems normal, which is sick. It's what we're used to and for the future I hope it changes.”