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New San Diego task force aims to end patient assault toward health care workers


SAN DIEGO — Workplace violence in the health care industry has skyrocketed across the country and San Diego leaders are looking at ways to help keep employees at local providers safe.

A recent study found that nearly 40% of health care workers cited experiencing workplace violence within the last two years.

That trend holds true here in San Diego, with data from Scripps Health showing at least one staff member is harmed on the job by a patient every day across the provider’s locations.

“The most dangerous thing I do every day, in my entire life, is walk into that building,” Dr. Roneet Lev, an emergency room physician at Scripps Mercy Hospital in Hillcrest, shared with FOX 5 while outside the campus.

Lev was once attacked on the job by a patient. She described the incident as a nearly inevitable fate, with her 30 years of experience in the industry.

“They called the SWAT team after that incident and it was scary,” Lev continued. “I was just on the floor and everyone was just screaming at me, ‘Do you want to press charges, do you want to press charges?’”

She’s not alone in this. So much so, Scripps Health CEO and retired law enforcement officer Chris Van Gorder has now developed a countywide task force to put the issue to bed.

“These are my people, I’m responsible for them. They’re getting hurt on a regular basis,” Van Gorder told FOX 5 on Monday. “Even though we’ve got metal detectors now at the emergency department at Mercy, we have a significant amount of security, we’ve armed our security officers with tasers, the incidents are not going down.” 

He says that the internally collected data reveals violence against his staff went up 28% over the last year.

One of the more recent incidents occurred just last week at Scripps Memorial Hospital La Jolla: a patient, who had brought a revolver and a bowie knife into the facility, began threatening the security after he learned the two weapons had to be confiscated.

However, many of these cases go unreported to local law enforcement agencies, as San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan explained.

“No one should be caring for people in a hospital — vulnerable people — and be subjected to attacks and to violence,” said Stephan, who is also on the Scripps Hospital task force.

“[Health care workers] don’t want to be the ones to get someone in trouble,” she continued. “It’s not about getting someone in trouble, it’s about their right to be safe in their workplace.” 

She notes it’s a common attitude among workers due to the caring nature of the industry, where service and sacrifice lie at the forefront.

“I wasn’t thinking about myself, I was thinking ‘she’s my patient, can I let her go against medical advice? Is she ok?’” Lev recalled while talking about the moment she was once attacked on the job.

Stephan, along with other health care professionals and law enforcement agencies assigned to the task force, are now working to pass legislation that would up the charges for an attack on a health care worker from a misdemeanor to a felony crime.

To put this into perspective, it’s already a felony crime to assault a law enforcement officer or EMT worker.

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