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June 8, 2022

Is there a growing need to protect health care workers?

Daily Briefing

    Just days after two shootings at hospitals in Oklahoma and Ohio, an attacker stabbed three workers at a hospital in California—underscoring "the escalating threat of violence that healthcare workers have faced in recent years."

    Infographic: Strategies to stop workplace violence before it occurs

    California hospital faces stabbing attack

    On Friday, a man entered the ED at Encino Hospital Medical Center asking to be treated for anxiety before stabbing three staff members, including a doctor and two nurses. Bystanders and other staff members were able to barricade the man inside a small room until police officers arrived.

    After an hours-long standoff, SWAT officers took the attacker into custody and transported him to a different hospital to be treated for what appeared to be self-inflicted wounds on his arms. The attacker was later identified as 35-year-old Ashkan Amirsoleymani, and he was subsequently booked on three counts of attempted murder after being treated.

    According to Deputy Chief Alan Hamilton of the Los Angeles Police Department Valley Bureau, Amiresoleymani had a previous criminal record, including two arrests last year for resisting arrest and battery against a police officer. However, a motive for his attack at the hospital has not yet been determined.

    After the attack, all three victims were transported to Dignity Health Northridge Hospital Medical Center for treatment. By Saturday, two of the victims had been treated and released, but one victim remained hospitalized in fair but stable condition.

    In a statement, Elizabeth Nikels, a spokesperson for Prime Healthcare, which runs Encino Hospital, said the hospital's "leadership and other staff members responded swiftly, exhibiting incredible heroism in ensuring the assailant was locked in a room, unable to injure others."

    "No one else in the hospital was injured. All patients in the ED and inpatient units received care without disruption, which is an incredible tribute to the dedication and bravery of the Encino Hospital team," Nikels added. "The primary focus was ensuring that patients were safe and out of harm's way throughout the entire incident and that patient care was uninterrupted."

    A growing need to protect health care workers against violence

    According to Robert Wailes, president of the California Medical Association, these recent acts of violence in hospitals "underscore the escalating threat of violence that healthcare workers have faced in recent years.

    Since the pandemic, the risk of workplace violence has become a significant occupational hazard for many health care workers. For example, a study published in Workplace Health & Safety found that 44.4% of nurses reported experiencing physical abuse and 67.8% of nurses reported experiencing verbal abuse during the pandemic.

    "Our staff are yelled at, punched, hit, scratched, we hear about these on a day-to-day basis," said Matt Bierstack, president of Mercy Health Saint Mary's.

    In March, American Hospital Association president and CEO Richard Pollack sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland, asking him to support legislation that addresses violent behavior against health care workers.

    "For medical professionals, being assaulted or intimidated can no longer be tolerated as 'part of the job.' This unacceptable situation demands a federal response," Pollack wrote.

    Currently, there is legislation in the works to address shootings and other violent acts at health care facilities. For example, the House of Representatives passed a bill recently that would require health care employers to implement workplace violence prevention plans.

    "We are heartbroken and resolved to stand in solidarity with our colleagues who have dedicated their lives to saving the lives of others," Wailes said. "We send not just our deepest condolences, but our outrage that such senseless acts of violence continue to plague our nation." (Wigglesworth, Los Angeles Times, 6/4; White et al., NBC Los Angeles, 6/4; Hayes, USA Today, 6/4; Henderson, MedPage Today, 6/6)

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