By Brian Maass
DENVER (CBS4)– “We can’t tolerate it, we won’t tolerate it”, the Colorado Nurses Association is saying about their stance against violence against nurses. They believe a recent alleged assault of a nurse at Sky Ridge Medical Center was not an isolated incident.
“I think people are fed up and are starting to speak out loud that this simply isn’t okay and shouldn’t be tolerated and isn’t part of the job,” said Donna Strickland, President of the Colorado Nurses Association.
The Colorado Nurses Association represents about 80,000 nurses around the state.
Her stand was prompted by an Oct. 8 incident at Sky Ridge Medical Center in Lone Tree. Witnesses say anesthesiologist Dr. Mark Randle Ryan, who was not a hospital employee but worked for an outside anesthesiology group, was turning off patient monitors that monitor vital signs and were beeping in the hospital’s recovery room.
When Nurse Beth Duche told him to stop what she considered a risky practice, she and other witnesses say Ryan grabbed her by the throat and strangled her. Duche later filed a police report. After investigating and interviewing witnesses, Lone Tree police sought to have Dr. Ryan charged with second-degree assault. He remains free on bond and made his first court appearance last week. Ryan, 56, has told CBS4 he immediately retired from practicing medicine.
“He almost killed her,” said Strickland, who says the incident has sparked a groundswell of support for Duche and has propelled the issue of violence against nurses to the forefront of medical conversations. “All kinds of things happen to nurses on a daily basis. About 25 percent of nurses say they have been physically assaulted in the last year by a patient or family member and 50 percent say it’s just part of the job when in fact it’s not part of the job- it’s abuse, and it’s not acceptable,” said Strickland.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration reports of nearly 25,000 workplace assaults reported annually, 75 percent occur in health care and social service settings. Workers in health care settings are four times more like to be victimized than workers in private industry.
A 2014 survey on hospital crime attributed 75 percent of aggravated assaults and 93 percent of all assaults against health care workers to patients or customers.
Strickland maintains that incidents of bullying or violence between doctors and nurses might be higher than reported since she says many nurses fear reporting these types of incidents due to fear of losing their jobs or retaliation. She went on to say that she believes nurses are discouraged from reporting,“I think it’s a culture of silence or secrecy.”
Sky Ridge spokesperson Linda Watson called the alleged assault, “Unacceptable and does not conform to our standards of behavior, which do not permit or tolerate violence , intimidation or discrimination in the workplace.”
Following the CBS4 report on Ryan on the Facebook page of the Colorado Society of Advanced Practice Nurses, one commenter said she worked with an orthopedic doctor who threw a chart at a nurse.
“He also threw the helium tank at the nurse because it was empty and a scalpel at another nurse,” wrote the woman. Another nurse weighed in, writing, “Not surprised. I had one push me into a chair and then hit the wall by my head so hard he busted through the wall. I was asked not to work when he was on. All because I asked him to pick up his sharps off a patient’s bed.”
Another commenter wrote, ”After 45 years in this profession, I still see nursing staff assaulted, sexually harassed and verbally abused. It is time for the hospitals to actually have zero tolerance for this.”
State records show no previous disciplinary actions against Dr. Ryan and police said he had no previous criminal history.
Ryan told CBS4 by phone, ”I think it will be easy to show there was no intent involved.”
He said he was turning off the monitoring units due to “alarm fatigue” which he termed “significantly dangerous.” In an email to CBS4, Ryan wrote, ”FYI, The police report makes it sound like I turn off monitors with patients attached. I have NEVER done that. I have only turned off a monitor when 1. It has been alarming for more than a few minutes, 2. No one is paying any attention to it and 3. THERE IS NOT ONE CONNECTED TO IT.”
Lone Tree police said Ryan told them, “I just didn’t mean to hurt her.” Ryan is due back in court next month.