I-TEAM: “The patient had bit through my muscle,” local nurses talk about violent attacks


(WWLP) – A massive purple bruise indented with bite marks, that’s the battle wound that was left on Erin Johnson’s arm after she was violently attacked by a patient at Providence Behavioral Health Hospital in Holyoke.

“The patient had bit through my muscle. She was just attached to me,” Johnson told the I-Team it has been a couple of years since that attack, but it’s still fresh in her mind.

“The next day I went back to work and was put on light duty because of my injury, and at that point, it was expected that I interact with the patient.”

(What was going through your head?)

“Just that unpredictability, is she going to come after me again? Is this going to happen again?” 

It may sound like a horror story, but for nurses like Erin Johnson, it’s a glimpse into what they have to deal with on a daily basis. 

Johnson is a behavioral health nurse who works with children, but emergency room nurses are facing similar attacks.

The Massachusetts Nurses Association or MNA told the 22News I-Team, a nurse from central Massachusetts was left with a black and blue bruise that covered her entire upper arm after a patient forcefully shoved her over a stretcher.

Other nurses have been kicked, punched, shoved, and even threatened with weapons. “It takes physical tolls. I’ve had coworkers who have had stomach ulcers because of particular patients that are so violent, that they’re so stressed going to work, that they’re actually medically compromised now,” Johnson said.

The 22News I-Team found out nurses across the state are being attacked by patients at an alarming rate.

According to the MNA, more than 70% of emergency room nurses have been assaulted on the job, more often than police officers or prison guards.

Suzanne Love works at Baystate Franklin Medical Center in Greenfield. “One of my co-workers was punched in the face. A different intoxicated person attacked a nurse, lept at her, knocking her to the ground and creating a concussion,” she said.

Love said as an emergency room nurse, you always have to prepare for the unexpected. “It’s unpredictable; we don’t know, especially in the emergency department, what’s going to come next.”

The I-Team discovered, there aren’t any federal rules that require hospitals to have plans in place to protect nurses from violence in the workplace.

Here in Massachusetts, it depends on the hospital. 

Many hospitals in the area, including Baystate Franklin Medical Center and Providence Behavioral Health Hospital, have union contracts with the MNA. Those contracts require management to meet with nurses monthly to talk about various issues, including safety.

Love told the I-Team they also have security guards at Baystate Franklin, who can help nurses if a situation starts to escalate.

The MNA said that while some hospitals do a great job at keeping nurses safe, it’s difficult to regulate without the necessary laws.

Johnson agrees. “You can have the plans in place and all of the algorithms written out and what to do in these cases, but it’s the follow through on the hospital side too that needs to happen. Nurses can report what’s happening and we have these things in place, but it’s not necessarily going to be followed through and taken care of at the end of the day.” 

Love told the I-Team, that’s why the nurses’ union is now taking their fight to the State House in Boston. “The MNA is working with the state legislature to create laws, to make sure nurses across the state have protection and assurance that they will be safe on the job,” she said.

The MNA is pushing state lawmakers to sign a bill,  that would require hospitals to develop programs to protect nurses, regardless of where they work.

A similar push is happening in Washington; Congress is considering a bill that would require hospitals to create plans to prevent violence and fine hospitals that fail to report incidents of violence.

The I-Team contacted local hospitals and organizations to see what they’re doing to protect nurses. Below are the responses we’ve received: 


“Workplace safety and ensuring the health and wellbeing of our healthcare workforce is a top priority for each and every hospital in Massachusetts. MHA has worked with legislative leaders to propose legislation that creates new statewide standards for evaluating and addressing security risks in hospitals, and ensures that our members have workplace violence prevention programs in place based on those criteria. Our proposal would also strengthen penalties against those convicted of crimes against healthcare personnel, support victims of workplace violence through the legal process, and facilitate information-sharing between the healthcare and public safety communities.

We hope to reach consensus and get this measure passed as soon as possible during the current legislative session. At the same time, MHA, our members, and the broader healthcare community are working collectively to address many of the systemic and societal challenges that are contributing to increased incidents of violence in healthcare facilities.”


“At Mercy Medical Center, safety is a core priority in all that we do.  All colleagues in patient care areas receive annual safety training to ensure they are prepared to handle issues that may arise.  Additionally, Mercy frequently offers specialty training in several areas related to safety and recent topics have focused on how to respond in the event of a violent incident and how to assist in the de-escalation of a combative patient.” 


Recognizing that patients and families in our hospitals are facing challenging and stressful health issues, Baystate Health has taken a number of steps to create a safe workplace for our clinicians and staff. A system-wide Workplace Safety Task Force continually evaluates and implements programs for preventing, reporting and managing all types of workplace violence. Our policies, training and public safety staffing are all driven by data and staff feedback. In addition, we work closely with the Massachusetts Hospital Association to identify best practices on workplace safety from other hospitals and share our own learning.


The objective of this committee is to lead a comprehensive program for the prevention, reporting, and management of all types of workplace violence.

  • The leaders of the task force are a cross-functional team that meets monthly to discuss Workplace Safety related trends, data, and organizational challenges as well as creating corporate policies to address workforce safety.
  • This committee ensures that Baystate Health continues to make workplace safety a priority by maintaining a culture of safety and respect through:
    • Respectful communication
    • The following of organizational policies
    • Efficient, blame-free incident reporting

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