ST. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO) — As people prepare to pay their last respects to an Aitkin County Sheriff’s investigator killed in the line of duty, concerns are mounting over the safety inside hospitals.
Investigators say last week, 50-year-old Danny Hammond threatened to kill his wife when she told him she didn’t love him. A short while later, Hammond attempted to commit suicide.
He was brought to the St. Cloud hospital where Investigator Steven Sanberg was keeping an eye on him as he recovered. Authorities say Hammond somehow grabbed Sandberg’s service weapon early Sunday morning and shot and killed the deputy. Hammond was tasered by hospital security officers and eventually died from a likely cardiac arrest.
The tragedy is sure to raise more questions and concerns over hospital security in general, such as when a patient is restrained and what protocols are in place. Hospital administrators are specifically wondering what — if anything — could have been done to prevent the terrible and unexpected violence.
“[Hammond] was not handcuffed, the restraints are all part of the active investigation,” Bureau of Criminal Apprehensions Superintendent Drew Evans told reporters on Sunday.
CentraCare, which runs St. Cloud Hospital, said in a statement, “Critical incidents like this one are always subject to an internal review, which is underway.”
The hospital is held up as an example of what measures should be taken to assure greater patient and staff safety. In 2012, its employee health director spoke of rising violence at a hospital safety conference called by the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry. The previous year, the hospital reported 149 violent incidents, including the confiscation of 21 guns and over 3,300 knives. It was the first hospital to put in place metal detectors for people entering the emergency room.
“What do you do? You’ve got aggressive patients and they’re becoming more aggressive all the time,” hospital official Karen Witzman said at the 2012 gathering.
“Now, it’s people coming in with all kinds of chemicals on board,” Minnesota Nurses Association member Mary Turner said on Tuesday.
Turner is a trauma nurse in the Intensive Care Unit of North Memorial Hospital in Robbinsdale. She says caregiving has become much more dangerous.
“Nurses have a seven times greater chance of experiencing a violent incident than any other profession,” Turner said.
That can be evidenced by recent cases, like in July 2015 when a man with a knife caused a lockdown at Regions Hospital in St. Paul. There was also the chaotic scene, captured by hospital security cameras, showing nurses at St. John’s Hospital in Maplewood scramble for safety as they chased and struck by a deranged patient wielding an iron railing from a hospital bed.
That incident outraged lawmakers who were lobbied heavily to pass a new law forcing hospitals to make places of healing, more safe and secure.
“This is the skeleton in the closet for the nursing profession,” Turner said.
Caregivers say there are certain times when patients have to be physically restrained. Certainly, if they are criminally charged or considered dangerous.
Danny Hammond was hospitalized and guarded because he’d endangered his own life.
The new legislation is called the Workplace Violence Protection Law. It takes effect January 15, 2016 and requires all hospitals in the state to develop incident response plans with the input of staff and local police. In addition, all hospital personnel, from doctors and nurses to housekeepers will have to undergo annual safety training in how to respond to cases of violence.
Hospitals will be required to review their plans annually and track all incidents.