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Nurses at Seattle Children’s unit hold vigil for improved safety

SEATTLE (Dec. 13, 2023) — Nurses on the Psychiatry and Behavioral Medicine Unit at Seattle Children’s held a candlelight vigil Tuesday night before meeting with hospital leadership to address the violence on the unit as a result of a growing pediatric mental health crisis.

The nurses at Children’s, who are represented by the Washington State Nurses Association, report that children are staying on the unit for months because there is nowhere to go and the nurses don’t have enough resources to handle them. Nurses are having to use restraints, once a last resort, and they are fearing for their lives.

In recent weeks, police have been called multiple times to quell violence – something that was once very rare on the unit and a sign of a systemic crisis in pediatric mental health.

“Having 12 officers come in and escort a patient out is a sign we are under resourced and also traumatizing,” said Natasha Vederoff, a nurse on the unit.

On Nov. 7, police intervened after patients turned over carts, used a pole to swing at people, broke windows, and held a nurse in a chokehold. Almost simultaneously in a different part of the unit, a nurse was isolated with another patient and was choked, struck in the head 16 times, and nearly lost consciousness, nurses said. Several staff were sent to the Emergency Department due to injuries.

Ten days later, police came because patients were throwing ceiling tiles at staff.

The nurses say these two incidents are just part of a pattern of ongoing and escalating violence that confronts nurses and patients on the unit on a daily basis, several examples of which the WSNA listed in this Nov. 27 release.

“I’m exhausted from constantly reacting to dangerous behaviors and trying to prevent serious harm,” said Henry Jones, a nurse on the unit. “In our current state, I feel like I’m functioning more like a bouncer or a prison guard.”

Forty-four nurses — almost every nurse on the unit, not including those who were on a leave of absence due to injuries sustained while at work — signed a letter to Seattle Children’s management on Nov. 17, urging help on the unit.

“Staff work in a persistent state of fear as they come into each shift expecting violence and debilitating abuse,” the nurses wrote. “Patient care has been compromised to an extent that our milieu is no longer therapeutic, but rather dangerous and detrimental for all who enter the PBMU, staff and patients alike. The unfortunate reality of the unit is an exponentially increasing risk of a sentinel event if the PBMU is left to continue operating under its current conditions.”

Nurses asked for three safety officers to be present during the days, and one safety officer overnight. They also asked for three additional nurse roles (break nurse, resource nurse, and safety coach) to provide necessary resources to the nurses working directly with patients, the maximum nurse-to-patient ratio to not exceed 1:8; and double pay during the crisis to encourage nurses to remain on staff.

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