KANEOHE (AP) - Some Hawaii State Hospital employees say frequent assaults by patients are keeping them away from work for months, even years.
According to the state, there have been 90 assaults on staff by patients as of the end of August at the state's only public mental hospital, Hawaii News Now reported Tuesday. Last year, there were 120, and in 2011 there were 132.
Dr. Scott Miscovich, who is treating employees who have been injured at the hospital in the last eight months, said he can't send them back to a dangerous environment.
Emelinda Yarte has been out of work for nearly four years because of an attack in December 2009. The psychiatric technician was leading a group of mental patients up some stairs when she saw a patient punching a worker.
"I went back to help and then he slammed me on the wall, and that's when my jaw got dislocated," she said. Yarte said she suffered panic attacks when she tried to go back to the hospital.
Her psychologist diagnosed her with post-traumatic stress disorder.
"Nobody should have to go to work and not know if they're going to get kicked in the head or punched or have to get surgery for their shoulder when they walk out that day," said psychologist Mary Horn, who is treating about seven state hospital employees who have been hurt on the job.
Mark Fridovich, the adult mental health administrator for the state health department who oversees the hospital, said that when there's an assault there's immediate follow-up to determine what can be done to increase safety.
"Assaults do occur. We take each and every one of them very, very seriously," Fridovich said. "The problem with assault is even a single incident of it can cause incredible harm to the worker and traumatic experience."
Registered nurse Josh Akeo has been out of work for three months, after being kicked in the head while trying to separate two fighting patients.
"After what the doctor told me, he said the next kick in the head, the next punch in the head could end my life," he said. "That kind of stunned me. Because in that respect, I'm afraid to go back to work."