By Martha Bellisle
The Associated Press
SEATTLE — A patient at the state’s largest psychiatric hospital vaulted over a nurse’s station last weekend, knocked a nurse to the floor, choked her and bit part of her ear off.
The assault Sunday night was the latest in a series of attacks on health care workers at Western State Hospital. Hospital spokeswoman Kathy Spears told staff in an email obtained by The Associated Press about the attack.
Willie Saw, a nursing supervisor, told AP that part of the nurse’s ear lobe was bitten off by the patient. He said it will need to be re-attached with surgery.
The attack by the 29-year-old male patient on the 63-year-old nurse was unprovoked, said Chris Lawler, spokesman for police in the Tacoma suburb of Lakewood, where the 850-bed hospital is located.
Lawler did not identify the patient or the nurse, but Saw said it was the patient’s sixth assault on hospital staff since he was moved to the ward six months ago.
The hospital has been plagued by problems for years and was repeatedly cited for health and safety violations, ranging from assaults on workers to escapes by violent patients — including a man sent to the hospital after he was found incompetent to stand trial on a murder charge for tying up a woman with electrical cords, stabbing her 24 times and slashing her throat.
He was caught two days later, 300 miles away in Spokane.
Kelly Stowe, a spokeswoman for the state agency that oversees the hospital, said in an email Tuesday that the Department of Social and Health Services was “saddened by this assault of our staff member.”
Stowe said the patients at Western State have significant issues and “caring for patients with mental illness is noble and difficult due to the unpredictable behaviour.”
Past federal inspections at the hospital have found a lack of qualified staff, worker fear of retaliation from managers and a focus on bureaucracy over staff safety.
After a surprise inspection in May found more violations, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services cut the hospital’s certification and $53 million in annual federal funds.
Stowe said the state has been working to reduce violence at Western State and has put in place training programs aimed at improving worker safety.