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Nurse Beaten by Patient Denied Request for Unpaid Time Off and Fired

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by Melissa Mills Melissa Mills, BSN (Member) Writer Innovator Verified

Melissa Mills has 20 years experience as a BSN and specializes in Health and Wellness Writing, Leadership.

9 Followers; 108 Articles; 21,396 Visitors; 266 Posts

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Imagine being beaten on the job, needing multiple surgeries, and then being told that you can't have more time off and ultimately being terminated. This isn't just an example scenario for Tina Suckow, an Iowa nurse.

Nurse Beaten by Patient Denied Request for Unpaid Time Off and Fired

In 2018, TIna Suckow, a 49-year old nurse, was brutally beaten by a patient at a state mental facility in Iowa. Suckow had been employed there for over 4 years when the incident occurred. A “code red” alert was issued, and multiple staff members responded, one of whom was Suckow.

A patient, who is said to have been in a manic episode, was throwing furniture and threatening physical violence. Staff members brought in a “turtle shield,” an assault-protection device the facility had recently purchased, but not yet trained staff to use. Shortly after this device was brought out, Suckow became trapped between the shield and the patient. She was then beaten unconscious and hospitalized with injuries to her shoulder, knee, and head. She has undergone several surgeries and continues to need medical treatment today.

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During the incident, officials at the facility didn't call law enforcement to investigate the situation, which has left Suckow feeling like a target. “I’m not the criminal here,” said Suckow, “I didn’t do anything wrong.” The Nursing Director at the facility, Georgeanne Cassidy-Westcott sent an email two days after the incident informing staff about the opportunity to use the “turtle shield” and stated that while they had not trained on the use of the device, it was “fairly effective” when used in this situation.

Suckow contends that during her time off, she was not treated fairly. She reports that other staff who were off for medical reasons were allowed to send in paperwork electronically.  However, Suckow was required to make a two-hour round-trip drive to deliver her paperwork in person.

After her federally mandated time-off ended, Suckow made two requests. First, she requested catastrophic leave, which would allow other employees to donate sick time so that Suckow could extend her time on payroll. This was denied. Her second request was for time off without pay. However, the state rejected this request as well and is protected to do so under a 2017 state law that limits government employee unions to negotiate on the employees’ behalf for anything except pay.

According to a ucomm blog article, the union reports that terminations and forced resignations have tripled since the 2017 law went into effect. Some people in Iowa believe this number is low because it doesn’t account for state workers who have been forced to resign and others who like Suckow, have been injured on the job. In fact, Suckow’s state employment record doesn’t even list her as being terminated.

Another result of this legislation is that hospitals are now struggling more with being understaffed, which places patients and workers at risk of more safety concerns. Danny Homan, president of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees Iowa Council 16 told the Des Moines Register, “Any reasonable human being should have concern because if it’s OK for the state of Iowa to treat workers this way, then Casey’s can do it, Ruan can do it, any employers in the state of Iowa can do it.”

Even in light of this horrific situation that Suckow has endured, lawmakers still support the 2017 law. State Rep Steven Holt, helped to get the bill passed. He believes the changes have created a fairer balance between workers’ rights and government operations. He told the Des Moines Register, “There are plenty of horror stories to go around in the old system as well.” Holt also believes that a connection between unfair treatment by managers can’t be tied to the law.

Should lawmakers and citizens of Iowa accept the 2017 law because it’s not “worse” than the previous law? Or, should the union and the employee have more rights in this situation?

What do you think?

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Melissa is a professor, medical writer, and business owner. She has been a nurse for over 20 years and enjoys combining her nursing knowledge and passion for the written word. She is available for writing, editing, and coaching services. You can see more of her work at www.melissamills.net.

9 Followers; 108 Articles; 21,396 Visitors; 266 Posts

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Emergent has 25 years experience.

7 Followers; 2 Articles; 64,604 Visitors; 2,803 Posts

What should happen is the administration of the psychiatric hospital getting some morals and ethics.  They appear to needing some stat. Maybe the should go to the Wizard and ask for hearts?

In lieu of that unlikely scenario, obviously this case demonstrates that government needs to enact legislation to protect workers from CEOs and COOs. They should not pass a bill that further erodes protections for injured workers! 

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1 Follower; 5,827 Visitors; 808 Posts

It looks like the state hospital found the perfect reason to fire her. They probably figured with her injury and age, it would cost them way more money to keep her employed. This hits home as I am a mental health nurse. I have worked in a state hospital, mental health faculty and inpatient hospital currently. State hospitals are the hardest to work for in my opinion. Why use something you haven't been trained to use ? and staffing is an issue because places send people home when there are too many people, extra security is usually patrolling the whole hospital or it takes them too long to get to you.They need to be on the unit at all times to truly be effective. I don't all of this talk about change will make a difference, because it will require so much money. We need mire staffing but are told, your overstaffed, now your in danger, there is a equipment on  the unit that should help one but no one knows how to use it, training is becoming non-existent. It's all pure madness. 

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52 Visitors; 3 Posts

I am not a nurse but worked in the front lines for 15 years and also have 2 daughters who are nurses, one who works in mental health. I have been threatened, cornered and also had an emerg pt. shot himself in the head 20 ft from me when not given drugs. Violence is now part of a nurses daily lives it seems and protection and support is lacking while violence increases.People who are not part of the system have no understanding of what this does to those exposed to it continually.The very least an employer can do is support an worker injured on the job, it should be mandated in every hospital.No slick wording, no excuses.If a lawyer, teacher, bus driver, police ended up hurt by/while doing their job they would be supported, why not nurses ? Power in numbers, time to step up all nurses and get what should be already in place. It is only getting worse.

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42 Visitors; 4 Posts

I worked in a State hospital facility with Chemical Dependency patients.  A female pregnant patient threw me into a steel door.  I ended up with a neck injury and to this day have to deal with migraine headaches and get injections in my neck every 3 months.  The state did not do a thing with the patient.  We could not call the Security from the main building as they were not on our roster.  She was taken by police and brought back in 4 hours. I did not get any support from my supervisor's.  In fact they wanted to know what I did to piss her off. I looked at my supervisor and told her that she is the one that threw me under the bus with that particular patient that morning.  She just turned and walked away. This is ongoing problem on a daily basis.  And the people that sit in our government offices and make the rules and regulations have no idea what goes on in the hospitals, treatment centers, care facilities, etc.  I have always said those same people should come and spend a week in those same places and actually see what behaviors those patients have and they wouldn't be so quick to make some of the rules they make.  Times are getting worse.  As nurse's we all need to get tough.

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If she still was not able to return to work from her injuries why did she need donated or unpaid leave?  We need just a little more information to know the whole story.  What is federal mandatory leave?

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3 Followers; 95,904 Visitors; 36,540 Posts

I know someone who worked in a state mental health facility and was terminated in a similar situation because they wanted to get rid of him. The former employee sought good legal counsel, sued the state, prevailed, and won a monetary award in addition to a state pension. The state pension that the state tried to prevent paying to him in the first place! Sometimes it does pay to fight back.

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River&MountainRN has 4 years experience as a RN.

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1 hour ago, Jeckrn1 said:

If she still was not able to return to work from her injuries why did she need donated or unpaid leave?  We need just a little more information to know the whole story.  What is federal mandatory leave?

She needed leave donations, even unpaid, to protect her job, even better if they were paid days off to have some income. I take it you're not in the US if you're unfamiliar with FMLA (Family and Medical Leave Act)...it's a US labor law that allows for 12 unpaid weeks off of leave provided that you've been there at least a year/worked at least 1250 hours over the past 12 months.

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brandy1017 is a ASN, RN and specializes in Critical Care.

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Why isn't workers comp paying for her time off?  Shouldn't she be receiving workers comp disability if she is not able to return to work and it is a direct result of being attacked while at work?  

I hope the negative publicity will help her cause and she is able to find a lawyer to help her get the financial compensation she deserves!

Edited by brandy1017

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23 Visitors; 1 Post

Why should she have to use FMLA? Why doesn’t this fall under Workers Compensation. I had a friend who had a patient literally pick her up from one side of the bed and throw her across the room severely injuring her back. Our hospital, under Workers Comp. had to pay her while she was out and had to pay for all procedures she had done. 

Kim

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3 Followers; 33,981 Visitors; 4,216 Posts

Lawyer

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89 Visitors; 20 Posts

10 hours ago, River&MountainRN said:

She needed leave donations, even unpaid, to protect her job, even better if they were paid days off to have some income. I take it you're not in the US if you're unfamiliar with FMLA (Family and Medical Leave Act)...it's a US labor law that allows for 12 unpaid weeks off of leave provided that you've been there at least a year/worked at least 1250 hours over the past 12 months.

I know what FLMA is and why would she need to use it for a workers comp injury. Sounds like there is more to this story then what is being passed on. 

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