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Montana's Campaign To Protect Nurses From Workplace Violence

Nurses across Montana campaign to prevent workplace violence for healthcare workers and emergency responders.
Nurses across Montana campaign to prevent workplace violence for healthcare workers and emergency responders.

 Missoula registered nurse Caitlin Shipp will never forget her overnight shift last July 15.

"(It) started like any other day – or night," she remembers. "I was expecting a patient to come up from the emergency department to be admitted.”

The patient was drunk.

Very drunk.

"I was going through the standard admission questions," she says. "He started making inappropriate comments – sexually explicit comments."

The patient was not only wasted, he was also big: six feet tall and some 250 pounds.

Shipp is five-foot-four inches and weighs less than half that.

Pretty soon, she’d had enough of his obnoxious behavior. It was time for her to leave.

“Before I left the room I asked him if he needed anything. It’s what we do before we leave a room," she says. "He said he needed to use the bathroom. I helped him stand up. I then found myself being slammed into a wall. He pinned me there and started punching me."

The patient lost his balance when he pulled his fist back to punch her again.

Shipp ran away.

Other nurses came to help. They called the police and he was arrested.

"It is not unique," says Vicky Byrd of the Montana Nurses Association. "It happens every day, multiple times a day.”

The MNA has kicked off a campaign to make it a felony to assault an on-duty Montana healthcare worker or emergency responder with the intent to do harm.

State legislators defeated a measure last session that would have made this sort of violence a misdemeanor offense.

"'Oh, it rarely happens in Montana. That probably never happens in Montana.’ We heard that a lot," Byrd says. "This year, to be more prepared and to educate them we’re gathering health care stories from across the state. We’re putting them on postcards. They’ve already been getting them in the mail."

Byrd says more than 30 states have legislation addressing assault on health care workers. Most of them categorize it as a felony.

The MNA calls its educational campaign, "Your Nurse Wears Combat Boots."

Missoula RN Caitlin Shipp says her vicious attack left deep scars.

"I was quite rattled," she says. "I had a lot of anxiety for quite a long time. I still have anxiety. It’s been almost a year and when I am expecting a patient who goes through alcohol withdrawals I still have anxiety attacks. I have to bring myself together and breathe through it and then go back to work.”