NEW YORK NURSE: July/August 2011
by Mark Genovese
The past year has been one of recovery and advocacy for NYSNA member Kelly McLean.
In August 2010, McLean was violently attacked by a patient while working in a psychiatric unit at Erie County Medical Center in Buffalo. After nearly four months of recovery, her transition back to work life was less than smooth, as medical center administration treated her with disregard.
Since then, McLean has become a passionate advocate for measures to prevent RNs from workplace violence and to insist that, if RNs do unfortunately become victims, that they are treated with respect and given the help they need.
McLean will speak about her experiences during the “Labor Day” program on Sept. 22, the first day of NYSNA’s 2011 Convention in Niagara Falls. She will also take questions from the audience.
Although McLean met a handful of times with medical center executives after her return, she’s been disappointed with their overall response. “They’ve never included me in the root-cause analysis, nor asked me to participate on any committee to address workplace safety. I’ve never been given an opportunity to go through what happened.”
Even more upsetting, supervisors called her competency into question, requiring her to attend orientation as though she were a new hire and implying that the assault was her fault. To make matters worse, the medical center is starting to take away the security measures it put in place after the assault. “It’s as though they’re going backwards.”
McLean has since spoken at the National Federation of Nurses National Labor Assembly in Chicago and will be speaking at an international workplace violence conference in Vancouver. She said she found that speaking about the assault the past several months has become therapeutic, “but unfortunately, people don’t realize the extent of the problem. Nurses on any unit could be at risk of injury.” Hospital staff could be injured by the flailing arms and legs of an accident victim in severe pain, “They’re suffering, not functioning as they normally would. But that doesn’t change the fact that somebody can get hurt.”
The difference is when a patient intends to do harm. In such cases, nurses have a right to protection. “Our concern is that on an acute psychiatry unit, patients may have a history of violence. It’s not unreasonable for staff to expect to have adequate security.”