State hospital faces three citations over workplace violence, injuries

The Oregon State Hospital faces state citations over a pattern of violent attacks by patients on workers that resulted in complaints the Salem institution is a dangerous workplace.

After a months-long investigation into a complaint filed in March, the Oregon Occupational Safety and Health Division recently notified hospital officials of impending citations for three violations related to violence and injuries in the workplace.

The state’s workplace safety agency also warned the hospital of three other similar issues which “could become a problem in the future if not addressed,” according to a statement Thursday from the Oregon Health Authority, the hospital’s parent agency.

It will be the second time in two years that the hospital was cited over workplace violence and injuries. It cares for about 500 Oregonians with mental illnesses and disabilities ordered by state judges to receive treatment. 

Oregon OSHA opened its most recent inspection of the state hospital in April and confirmed in July that its investigation was continuing.

Aaron Corvin, Oregon OSHA spokesman, said Thursday that the agency wouldn’t disclose information gathered during an inspection until hospital executives have received the final report. No information was released on the number of employees assaulted or the severity of their injuries.

The health authority was told about the state’s findings in a recent meeting and will receive an official report in two to three weeks, said agency spokeswoman Amber Shoebridge.

According to Corvin, the complaint alleged that violent altercations were taking place between employees and patients several times a week, injuring the workers seriously enough to warrant medical care. He quoted from the complaint that “management does not implement any kind of solutions to mitigate these incidents and prevent workplace injuries from these attacks.”

“One of our guiding principles at the hospital is to ensure the safety of both our patients and our staff,” Superintendent Dolly Matteucci said in the statement. “Our staff deserve to come to work each day without the fear of being hurt. We know we have more work to do, and we know more thorough investigation of incidents will help us learn from what happened and prevent future occurrences.”

The health authority wrote in its statement that the state hospital changed its operations to reduce violence against workers before Oregon OSHA began investigating.

SAIF Corp., a state-chartered workers’ compensation company based in Salem, hired a workplace violence prevention consultant to work with the hospital starting last month. The hospital also implemented a new risk assessment checklist to identify patients at high risk for aggressive behavior, and is improving employee participation in drills, training and consultation, according to the statement.

The health authority said a recent shift in the types of patients admitted to the hospital led to some of the recent changes at the state hospital. There has been an increase in patients found unable to aid and assist in their own defense, who are more likely to face behavioral issues “until medication and other treatment has a chance to work,” according to the statement. It also said that employees and patients have dealt with inconsistent staffing and Covid restrictions.

Oregon OSHA cited the state hospital in 2020 after an employee complained in 2019 about frequent assaults by patients and a lack of solutions to address the issue. The agency found the violation was serious and fined the hospital $2,000.

A Salem Reporter investigation in October 2021 determined that the hospital had not implemented most of the corrections it told state officials were underway to reduce violence.

Contact reporter Ardeshir Tabrizian: [email protected] or 503-929-3053.

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Ardeshir Tabrizian has covered criminal justice and housing for Salem Reporter since September 2021. As an Oregon native, his award-winning watchdog journalism has traversed the state. He has done reporting for The Oregonian, Eugene Weekly and Malheur Enterprise.