A nurse at Bergen Regional Medical Center in New Jersey who suffered a horrific assault by a patient in 2015 won a case against the Paramus facility this week. They have been ordered to reimburse the nurse for medical expenses and back pay.
The police had been called to the hospital numerous times for similar assaults and altercations in the past. The union that represents the nurses at the facility contacted federal investigators to investigate the case.
Last month Governor Christie signed a bill that will develop a panel to monitor the hospital.
The violence has sparked concerns about the safety of other nurses and patients. Despite the hospital insisting that they have met all requirements to prevent violence in the facility, they have declined to provide the actual number of assaults that have occurred. They do maintain that the number is less that state psychiatric facilities.
Nurse Sandra Giancarlo alleges that she was violently assaulted in a brutal attack Jan. 11, 2015. The same patient was involved in 11 different incidences prior to Giancarlo attack.
The patient is a 6-foot 350-pound woman who refused to take medications that prevented her from violent outbursts. She refused to take a shower or bathe for a year until she was finally forced.
The facility's attending physician in the psychiatric unit admitted to speaking with the medical director of psychiatry, Dr. Gabe Kaplan, who refused to write an order to forcibly medicate the patient to curb the violence and risk to staff and other patients.
Giancarlo asked for male back-up at the beginning of her shift because she was afraid of the unruly and aggressive patient, but was informed by the assistant director of the facility that no one was available. At the end of the shift Giancarlo who is a 100 pound, 5 foot 4 inches was attacked by the patients who scratched the nurse's face, pulled some hair out and injured her knee to the point of requiring surgery. She also suffers from PTSD from the attack and is taking medication to help.
Bergen Regional, is a long-term care, acute and behavioral health center. In New Jersey, there had previously been a policy for standing orders for medication administration in mental health facilities if a patient refused medication, but the bill was overturned and is now illegal.
During testimony, Kaplan said psychiatrists can't possibly decipher when a patient will become violent and it's important to “balance the patient’s civil and human rights against the benefits of medicating them.” But he also admitted that “the hospital had not formulated an alternative policy’’ after the new bill mandated one.
“It was incumbent upon the hospital to address the known risks of violence, and to comply with the court order, but there was no evidence presented that it did either." according to the courts.
Hospital spokeswoman Donnalee Corrieri said“There is and has been a policy in place for the administration of emergency involuntary medication and the policy outlines the procedures to follow.’’
Giancarlo, recently returned to work after 18-months and is trying to adjust.
Corrieri said “BRMC has and will be supportive of Ms. Giancarlo in the aftermath of her ordeal,’’ she added “The breadth of that support extends well beyond, and is irrespective of the full compensation and expressed coverage addressed within the award.’’
Bernard Gerard, an official with Health Professionals and Allied Employees, filed a complaint with the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration in Feb. 2015 when he discovered news about the attack. OSHA issued a citation six months later and imposed a $13,600 penalty. The hospital is “vigorously contesting’’ the ruling, which marked the second time that OSHA urged the hospital to better protect staff.
Several other nurses were also victims of assault by the same patient and cries for help from the hospital administration were ignored.