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Nurses at a Renowned Seattle Hospital Protest After a Nurse Is Stabbed in the Face

Gayle Morris, BSN, MSN
Updated October 25, 2023
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    Nurses in Seattle and nationwide want a safer work environment and better protection as violence against nurses continues to rise.
    Empty hospital hallwayCredit: Getty Images
    • Six hundred nurses in Seattle, WA, picketed for several hours in protest of working conditions and security.
    • Nurses at Virginia Mason Medical Center recounted how patients routinely arrive with homemade weapons or guns.
    • Workplace violence against nurses is rapidly rising, with 40% having experienced at least one incident in the past two years.

    Multiple nursing strikes have occurred as nurses fight for better pay, a safer work environment, and higher patient-to-staff ratios. In early October, over 75,000 healthcare workers at Kaiser Permanente hospitals went on a three-day strike — making it the largest healthcare labor dispute in U.S. history. A tentative deal was reached to raise wages for frontline workers at Kaiser Permanente hospitals.

    The latest protest comes after a Seattle nurse was stabbed in the face.

    Explore what happened in Washington and the rising workplace violence against nurses.

    Why Are Nurses at Virginia Mason Protesting?

    Over 600 nurses at Virginia Mason Medical Center in Seattle joined a picket line on October 10, 2023, demanding better staffing and better protection against workplace violence after one nurse was stabbed in the face and another was nearly hit with a claw hammer in the head.

    The rally was a demonstration against the hospital after the Washington State Nurses Association (WSNA) and Virginia Mason Medical Center worked through 15 bargaining sessions without resolving any current issues.

    The nurses said they had approached hospital management with proposals for better security, which they believed would help attract new nurses and retain the current staff.

    “I’ve never felt more unsafe,” Virginia Mason emergency department nurse Kimberly Travis-Carter said. “A lot of patients come in with weapons on them — homemade weapons — we’ve had instances where we’ve had guns in our ER.”

    Poor working conditions have resulted in the loss of nursing staff. According to hospital data, from July to August of 2023, 60 registered nurses left the hospital, representing a reduction of 9.5%.

    According to the union, from July 2022 to 2023, some hospital departments experienced a greater than 100% turnover rate, which left those departments without experienced nurses. In a statement to KIRO 7, Kelly Campbell, division vice president of marketing and communications at Virginia Mason Medical Center had the following to say:

    “Virginia Mason Franciscan Health is committed to ensuring a safe and high-quality workplace that attracts and retains our dedicated employees. We address any safety issues immediately as they occur and work to ensure a secure environment is provided for everyone. We respect the collective bargaining process and are participating in good faith. As we move forward with the negotiation process, patients can expect to receive uninterrupted, quality care.”

    Workplace Violence Has Been a Worsening Issue for Nurses

    There is a growing trend of workplace violence against nurses. According to a 2023 Premier survey, 40% of healthcare workers experienced workplace violence within the past two years.

    The violence against nurses occurred most frequently to staff from men ages 35 to 65. Among the respondents who had experienced violence, the incidents occurred most often when nurses were explaining or enforcing policy or providing an update on a patient’s condition to the patient or family members.

    When identifying the type of workplace violence, women experienced emotional or verbal assaults and physical or sexual abuse, while the men who responded were more likely to experience physical abuse.

    Because verbal abuse and threats against healthcare workers do not have the same criminal status as they do for other first responders, such as police, most incidents were not escalated to law enforcement. When respondents were asked to rank the contributing factors to workplace violence, the top factor was mental illness, followed by drugs and alcohol.

    Although many incidents of verbal or emotional abuse or intimidation are not reported to law enforcement, others have been covered by the media.

    • According to a 2022 Atlanta news report, two nurses are attacked every hour in the U.S. There were 57 assaults a day recorded in the second quarter of 2022, over 21,000 attacks annually.
    • In May 2023, a male nurse was violently attacked by a patient in Rhode Island Hospital without a weapon, which left him in critical condition. According to the report, the patient was a psychiatric patient upset about his phone privileges.
    • In another report on September 11, 2023, Kathryn Darling, a certified nursing assistant, recalled an incident in which she was helping security restrain a combative patient. While supporting his head, the patient delivered a blow to the left side of Darling’s head, and she lost consciousness.
    • An October 2023 report on Fox News 13 recounts one nurse’s experience during a 10-hour shift in which one patient spat on her, threw feces on her, bit her fingers, hit her, and kicked her.

    Workplace violence is just one of the issues nurses are fighting to correct through arbitration, negotiation, and protesting.

    You can help protect yourself and support your colleagues nationwide by working with nurse advocacy groups.