Oregon State Hospital faces over $54,000 in fines from the state’s workplace safety agency after an inspection found the hospital failed to investigate nearly 80% of recent incidents where employees were assaulted on the job.
The Oregon Occupational Safety and Health Administration cited the hospital on Sept 16.
According to the citation, the hospital recorded 102 employee injuries related to “workplace violence” from January through June 2022. A random sample of nine cases found only two were investigated.
The workplace safety agency cited the hospital’s failure to investigate as a willful workplace safety violation, imposing a $53,750 fine. A willful violation is the most serious type of workplace safety violation and means an employer intentionally disregarded or acted with indifference to worker health and safety.
Two other violations say the hospital failed to correctly log patient assaults on employees and recordable injuries, with 29 incidents going unreported in April. Both violations were “other than serious” and came with fines of $330 and $100, respectively, bringing the total penalty to $54,180.
The agency can cite employers between $9,753 and $135,653 for willful workplace safety violations, according to an agency fact sheet.
The hospital is run by the Oregon Health Authority and cares for about 500 Oregonians with serious mental illnesses, most of whom are court-ordered to receive treatment as part of a pending criminal case. Its main campus is in Salem, with a smaller satellite hospital in Junction City.
Amber Shoebridge, spokeswoman for the hospital, sent Salem Reporter copies of the citations Wednesday, saying the hospital had received them late Tuesday.
She did not immediately respond to questions about the hospital’s plan to correct the violations, or whether the hospital planned to appeal.
The health authority previously announced on Sept. 8 the hospital was facing three state citations, but said hospital leaders had not yet received the OSHA report including the amounts of fines or details about the violations. In that announcement, health officials said the hospital was taking steps to reduce injuries proactively, including hiring a safety consultant from the state-chartered worker’s compensation insurance company SAIF, and using a tool to identify patients with a high risk of violent behavior.
“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,” hospital Superintendent Dolly Matteucci said in the announcement.
It’s the second time in recent years the state-run hospital has faced OSHA fines for violations related to its handling of assaults on employees.
In late 2019, Oregon OSHA inspected the hospital following an employee complaint about frequent assaults by patients and inaction from hospital management.
Oregon OSHA cited the hospital in June 2020 for two serious workplace safety violations, saying its safety committee members had not been trained in accident investigation, did not have written records of recommended corrective actions to prevent assaults and did not review all accidents and incidents.
Employees who spoke with workplace safety investigators described serious injuries, including broken bones, caused by patients and said there was no investigation or follow-up by the hospital, according to the report.
The agency fined the hospital $2,000.
The hospital has struggled with violence and high staff turnover for years, with many of its difficulties exacerbated during the Covid pandemic as hospital managers spread some of the institution’s least stable patients into units ill-equipped to care for them, a 2021 Salem Reporter investigation found.
One year after OSHA last cited the hospital, Salem Reporter found managers had implemented few of the steps they outlined to correct the issues.
The most recent OSHA citation came following an investigation initiated by an employee complaint in March 2022,” Oregon OSHA spokesman Aaron Corvin told Salem Reporter.
“Throughout the facility multiple times a week, violent altercations between employees and patients are taking place. As a result, employees are needing to seek medical care for their injuries. Management does not implement any kind of solutions to mitigate these incidents and prevent workplace injuries from these attacks,” the complaint read.
The citation shows a high rate of workplace injuries continues. In 2021, the hospital logged 336 work-related injuries or illnesses among employees, which resulted in a total of 2,844 days off work, and 5,641 restricted work days.
Corvin said Wednesday that the workplace safety agency was awaiting confirmation the hospital has received the full investigation report before publicly releasing it.
The hospital has until Oct. 3 to correct the failure to investigate injuries, and until Sept. 26 to fix the less serious violations.
Contact reporter Rachel Alexander: [email protected] or 503-575-1241.
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Rachel Alexander is Salem Reporter’s managing editor. She joined Salem Reporter when it was founded in 2018 and covers city news, education, nonprofits and a little bit of everything else. She’s been a journalist in Oregon and Washington for a decade. Outside of work, she’s a skater and board member with Salem’s Cherry City Roller Derby and can often be found with her nose buried in a book.