On the front lines: Healthcare workers facing violent encounters on the job

KRQE Investigates

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – Over the course of the pandemic, healthcare workers have been on overdrive. But there’s another problem plaguing emergency rooms and hospitals. KRQE News 13 obtained video that exposes how healthcare workers are dealing with an epidemic of violent patients on the job.


KRQE Investigates


“We got requested out by security for an intoxicated individual,” a paramedic is heard on lapel video telling an Albuquerque police officer. He’s explaining a common scenario that involved picking up an intoxicated person from the streets and taking them to the hospital.

Video from Albuquerque Police Department officers in May shows them responding to Lovelace Hospital in downtown Albuquerque in reference to a patient attacking paramedics. “I’m here at least twice a week, or twice a day,” one officer said.

“Kneed my partner on the side of the head, and then she kicked down and she kicked me here on the left, right here,” a paramedic told one of the responding officers.

Paramedics said they were kicked and hit by 39-year-old Anna Olivas. Hospital staff said she was drunk, and refused to leave after being discharged.

Lapel video from Albuquerque police officers shows hospital security staff explaining to officers what they witnessed, and showing the responding officers hospital surveillance video. Security staff told police Olivas was screaming at nurses, trying to bite, kick, and hit them even after security handcuffed her.

Olivas was arrested and charged with battery on a healthcare worker that night, a fourth-degree felony in New Mexico. Olivas’ criminal history includes battery on police officers and drunk driving; cases that were pending when this happened.

“It’s a very rewarding profession, but there’s a dark side for sure,” explained Gloria Doherty, a PHD Nurse Practitioner and the President of the New Mexico Nurses Association.

“The emergency room and the ICU are the top areas where abuse occurs, but that’s occurring more and more on the med surge floors,” Doherty added.

When asked if nursing is a dangerous profession, Doherty replied, “I would have to answer yes. And that breaks my heart, because I wouldn’t do anything else in the world.”

A recent National Nurses United survey found nurses reported 22% more violent occurrences during the pandemic. And Doherty says those are just the cases that get reported. “It is underreported, and there’s a whole culture behind that,” said Doherty.

Hospital Workers often don’t press charges

“We were here yesterday for another one that was kicking the nurses, but the nurse didn’t want to press charges,” an APD officer is heard telling a hospital staff member on lapel video. “She didn’t want to come in and do the court and stuff,” the officer added.

When an officer asks if a nurse or a healthcare worker wants to press charges, some decline since their long hours can make it difficult to commit to appearing in court. Others may be traveling nurses or doctors who can’t return for future court proceedings.

Doherty argues there’s also a belief among some healthcare staff that some violent encounters in the ER, for example, come with the territory. “You have angry family members, you have angry patients, you have just the systems that are broken with understaffing,” Doherty explained.

Alcoholism, drug abuse, and mental illness, also pose a big problem in New Mexico, Doherty said.

In March, police took a report from Presbyterian Kaseman Hospital in northeast Albuquerque. Lapel video obtained by KRQE News 13 shows the conversation between the officers and the nurse reporting the attack.

“He comes in, he has a history of psych problems, history of methamphetamine use,” a nurse practitioner explains what happened to an Albuquerque Police Officer. The nurse is describing Tyler Shropshire, 31, with whom the staff is very familiar.

“He actually struck one of our staff two months ago inpatient care. He punched her in the face,” the nurse added.

When Shropshire didn’t get the meds he demanded, “He stood up, punched me square in the face,” said the nurse. Staff, in this case, decided to press charges.

That decision doesn’t always come easy for healthcare workers. “The culture of most organizations is, ‘This is just part of the job,’ and it’s really not OK,” said Doherty.

Lapel video from an Alamogordo police officer in June shows him taking a battery report from a nurse. After giving her account of what happened, the nurse got emotional once the officer asked if she wanted to press charges against a woman who had just attacked hospital staff. “I don’t want her to go to jail, but,” the nurse choked up. “She can’t do this to people, you know?”

“I know,” the officer replied.

Is jail the answer for everyone?

Hospital workers know a short jail stay won’t fix everyone’s problem. Take Ronnisha Cail’s case for example. “I drink alcohol every day,” Cail told an Albuquerque Police officer. When asked what she’d done, Cail told the officer, “He said I hit somebody, but I’ve been going through some sh**.”

Lovelace Women’s staff said Cail came in and started swinging at nurses. Cail also has a long history of assaulting healthcare workers. She told officers she’s homeless and struggles with drugs and alcohol. “I’d rather go into the streets where I don’t feel safe but I’m free,” said Cail.

In lots of these cases, officers tell healthcare workers the offender will likely be back on the street soon. So what’s the solution? Doherty provided a breakdown of what the New Mexico Nurses Association would like to see.

Possible solutions

Doherty says New Mexico needs more behavioral health providers and support, and nurses need better training in de-escalation. All hospitals should adopt zero-tolerance policies for violence, with security checkpoints for visitors, she added. She would also like to see more follow-through in reporting violence from the frontlines to the justice system, and for people to get the help they need. “You know 30 years later, I still love what I do,” said Doherty. “I go home every day feeling rewarded, for making those differences.”

“But you do have those circumstances,” she added. “There’s probably not one night that I’m not admitting somebody who has the potential for danger.”

According to public records requests, Albuquerque police logged thousands of calls to hospitals alone over the last couple of years.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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