Daily attacks common at the Oregon State Hospital, some say

Daily attacks common at the Oregon State Hospital, some say »Play Video

SALEM, Ore. - Would you put up with stitches, broken bones and bruises on the job?

It's all in a day's work according to some employees at the Oregon State Hospital in Salem and they tell us when the violence happens there are virtually no consequences for the people responsible.

Brant Johnson and Jeff Hodson, both veteran employees at the facility, say someone (sometimes a patient, sometimes a staff member) gets attacked there every day.

Hospital data shows 698 times last year that a patient was aggressive toward a hospital employee. That's twice a day. And it turns out just 10 patients are responsible for nearly a third of all of the incidents - most of the patients aren't violent.

Johnson and Hodson say the problem is that the few patients that are violent aren't held accountable for the assaults because the focus at the hospital has shifted from punishment to treatment. It's a lenience they say the violent patients recognize and abuse.

And what happens if the staff members report the assaults to police? Little to nothing happens because little to nothing can happen.

Marion County prosecutor Paige Clarkson says her office, funded by county taxpayers, simply doesn't have the resources to prosecute every case out of the state hospital, especially if the attack is only considered a misdemeanor.

Clarkson says the district attorney's office supports a bill working its way through the Legislature right now that would give hospital employees the kind of vulnerable worker protection that taxi drivers, bus drivers and paramedics have. State lawmakers have decided if you punch someone working those kind of jobs, what would otherwise be a misdemeanor fourth-degree assault automatically becomes a second-degree felony assault.

What evidence is there that the law would make things safer?

A disability advocate we spoke with believes this will not reduce violence, that instead it will contribute to a prison mentality at the hospital. He says that's a sub-culture that state officials and the U.S. Department of Justice have identified about the Oregon State Hospital, and they acknowledge it needs to change.

The desperation is clear to injured employees who are revealing what's happened to them behind the hospital's closed doors through a Facebook page that was just started three weeks ago. They are hoping it will convince the right people that something needs to change.

Statement from the Oregon State Hospital

"Most patients at the Oregon State Hospital are no more likely than anyone else to harm another human being. Unfortunately, there are some patients who have knowingly acted aggressively towards staff, and that is unacceptable. The hospital should be a place of healing for patients and a place of pride and safety for employees."

"We have been successful over the past several years at reducing incidents of aggression and will continue our efforts to do so. HB 2024, which makes it a felony for patients to knowingly assault staff, would be a helpful deterrent against aggression. We stand with our employees in support of this bill."

- Superintendent Greg Roberts

Reports from the Oregon State Hospital