A nurse was beaten unconscious. Now, more workers attacked at Iowa mental health facility

Jason Clayworth
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A nurse was beaten unconscious. Now, more workers attacked at Iowa mental health facility

At least four state employees in two weeks have been injured in violent patient outbursts at the Independence Mental Health Institute.

DES MOINES, Iowa – At least four state employees have been injured in violent outbursts from patients at the Independence Mental Health Institute in the past two weeks.

It’s the same facility that made headlines in May after nurse Tina Suckow spoke publicly about being beaten unconscious and ultimately removed from the state’s payroll for what she contends was “not healing quickly enough.”

The latest assaults include a nurse punched in the nose and three residential treatment workers who sustained head or neck injuries from patient attacks, according to information from the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

The Independence Mental Health Institute Thursday, April 11, 2019.

The nurse initially gave two weeks' notice after the attack, but she rendered her resignation immediate after she was left – during the same June 6 shift – to work in the sex offender unit by herself while coworkers responded to another emergency, AFSCME said.

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At least one of the other injured employees is on workers’ compensation while being treated for injuries sustained in one of the attacks, the union said.

“There is a safety crisis taking place for the employees and the state of Iowa is showing no urgency to address it,” said Danny Homan, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Iowa Council 61.

Hand out photos show injuries Tina Suckow suffered while working as a nurse at the Independence Mental Health Institute.

The basic facts about the cases outlined by the union were not contested by Matt Highland, a spokesman for the Iowa Department of Human Services. Highland said workplace injuries are down at the facility compared to the prior year, but he did not respond Thursday to a request for safety data. 

The 146-year-old institute serves about 60 adults and children who are considered to have among the most serious or complex psychiatric needs in the state. The patients oftentimes have been expelled from or denied entry into privately owned care facilities because of medical or behavioral issues.  

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DHS employees are provided training to avert or deescalate situations when patients become violent. Treatment provided to aggressive patients is frequently reviewed to help reduce incidents of violence, Highland said. 

“Unfortunately, due to the nature of the work, injuries do occur,” he said.

Hand out photos show injuries Tina Suckow suffered while working as a nurse at the Independence Mental Health Institute.

Highland refuted an assertion from AFSCME that positions are being left unfilled at the institute. On average 23 of the 25 registered nurse positions, 10 of 12 licensed nurse practitioners and 52 of 55 resident treatment worker positions have been filled in the current fiscal year, he said.

There were four registered nurse vacancies and one residential treatment worker vacancy at the institute as of Tuesday, Highland said.

This article originally appeared on Des Moines Register: A nurse was beaten unconscious. Now, more workers attacked at Iowa mental health facility