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Fatal Attack Renews Calls for Healthcare Workplace Safety

John Commins, for HealthLeaders Media, November 1, 2010

Cynthia Barraca Palomata, RN, died last week after she was attacked and struck in the head with a lamp by a prisoner she was treating at the Martinez Detention Facility in Contra Costa County, CA.

Palomata was a veteran nurse who'd worked in San Francisco-area hospitals for more than 20 years. She joined Contra Costa Health Services in 2005 and had worked in the Martinez Detention Facility since then.

"She was a well respected member of our nursing staff and our hearts go out to her
family during this incredibly difficult time," says William Walker, MD, director of Contra Costa Health Services. "Staff safety is the highest priority and we continue to work closely with the Sheriff's Office to evaluate safety procedures."

Palomata was attacked in the intake area of the jail by a burglary suspect who police said had no previous history of violent behavior and who allegedly picked up the lamp and struck the nurse "without provocation or warning," even though sheriff's deputies were in the area. The inmate faces murder charges.

Regular HealthLeaders Media readers know we've touch upon the subject of workplace violence numerous times. The topic doesn't get old for us, because the incidents of violence won't go away. Bureau of Labor Statistics data for 2008—the latest figures available—show 2,890 work-related assaults at hospitals. That doesn't tell the whole story, because the data reflect only assaults that are serious enough to inflict injury and force the victim to miss at least one day of work. Other BLS data show that for every 10,000 hospital workers, there were eight workplace assaults that resulted in missed work days. By comparison, in the overall private sector, there were only 1.7 workplace assaults resulting in missed work for every 10,000 workers. Last year, more than half of the 3,465 respondents to an Emergency Nurses Association online survey said they've been spit on, hit, pushed, shoved, scratched, or kicked while on the job.

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