After nurse assaulted by patient, Lifespan launches campaign to keep staff safe

Hospital system asks community to pledge to support zero tolerance for abuse of health care workers.

By: - October 19, 2023 6:02 pm

Left to right are Lisa Tomasso, senior vice president for the Hospital Association of Rhode Island; Rhode Island Hospital Chief Nursing Officer Cynthia Danner; Chief Medical Officer Dean Roye; and Providence Providence Police Lt. Carlos Sical. They assembled at Hasbro Children’s Hospital Thursday morning, Oct. 19, 2023, to announce a new campaign to raise awareness and prevent violence directed at health care workers. (Christopher Shea/Rhode Island Current)

PROVIDENCE — Hospitals across the state are asking the public to pledge to help keep health care workers safe following an incident at Rhode Island Hospital last month.

The union representing nurses at the hospital, meanwhile, wants to see further changes.

The initiative, called #ScottStrong, was announced at a press conference Thursday morning inside the entrance of Hasbro Children’s Hospital and featured Lifespan executives and representatives from the Providence Police Department and the Hospital Association of Rhode Island (HARI).

“We need your help to protect those who have dedicated their lives to caring for us and our family members,” said Lisa Tomasso, senior vice president for HARI. “Violence against health care workers should be a zero event.”

The #ScottStrong web page has a form to fill out pledging to help create a safe and respectful health care environment for healthcare workers, patients and visitors.

Signing it indicates support for a “zero tolerance policy” for abusive or violent behaviors, threats, possession of firearms inside the hospital, and taking photos/videos of staff and patients without permission.

All of the state’s 15 hospitals plan to promote the pledge, Tomasso said. 

Violence against health care workers should be a zero event.

– Lisa Tomasso, senior vice president for thr Hospital Association of Rhode Island

The campaign is named after nurse Scott Amaral, a nurse who was assaulted by a patient Sept. 8 inside the Jane Brown building — Rhode Island Hospital’s psychiatric department.

A Providence Police report said the incident arose after 37-year old George Bower was told he was not allowed to use the hospital’s telephone. Amaral tried to “address his concerns about his phone privileges,” only for Bower to grab the nurse by his shirt and push him against the wall which left him with serious injuries.

Police said surveillance video also showed Bower knock Amaral to the ground.

“This was extremely shocking to everybody,” Chief Medical Officer Dean Roye said. 

Roye said Amaral recovered enough to be discharged recently from the hospital. Lifespan spokesperson Kelly Brennan could not comment on when Amaral is expected to return to work.

Bower is scheduled to appear in Providence District Court on Friday. Under Rhode Island Law, assaulting a health care or emergency worker is a felony that carries a prison sentence of up to three years and a fine of $1,500.

Though the incident occurred in the hospital’s psychiatric hospital, Chief Nursing Officer Cynthia Danner said incidents against health care workers are not attributed solely to people dealing with mental health issues.

“It’s more likely for an individual struggling with a mental health disorder to be a victim of a violent act than it is for them to perpetrate one,” she said.

Lifespan staff watch the press conference at Hasbro Children’s Hospital in Providence on Thursday, Oct. 19, 2023. (Christopher Shea/Rhode Island Current)

Workplace violence in health care settings was already on the rise across the country before the pandemic began, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The prevalence remained high after the arrival of COVID-19. In a National Nurses United survey in 2022, 40% of hospital nurses said they’d seen an increase in violent incidents. Researchers estimate that up to two-thirds of incidents go unreported.

Providence Police Lt. Carlos Sical said in the last year, officers in Rhode Island’s capital city responded to 50 calls regarding assault and battery against health care workers — though none were as severe as the incident in which Amaral was injured.

“The violence is usually kicking, punching, biting, or bodily fluids,” Sical said in an interview after the press conference.

Frank Sims, a registered nurse and president of Rhode Island Hospital United Nurses & Allied Professionals Local 5098, said in a statement that his union wants to see changes to policies and legislation in order to ensure safety. 

“Nurses and health professionals sacrifice a lot to provide quality care for patients, and we expect Lifespan — and all hospital employers — to do everything in their power to ensure we are protected when we come to work,” Sims said.

Roye said officials at Lifespan are reviewing internal policies and procedures regarding security, though he did not elaborate what enhancements could be on the way.

“We are looking across the spectrum,” he said.

Still, Roye said having the public play their role is a critical step in reducing violence.

“What stops us from assaulting another person is the civilization that we live in — standards that we have,” he said.


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Christopher Shea
Christopher Shea

Christopher Shea covers politics, the criminal justice system and transportation for the Rhode Island Current.