HONOLULU (KHON2) — Hawaii’s nurses have been overworked combating the COVID-19 pandemic, but now they’re battling a new epidemic: workplace violence.

Their union says nurses at The Queen’s Medical Center facilities are being subjected to physical, sexual, or verbal assault and aren’t getting support from management.

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The accounts are disturbing. Nurses punched in the face and given black eyes or split lips. A pregnant nurse knocked-out cold from a punch.

“When a patient comes out, threatening to smash the nurses head in and comes out of the room looking for the nurse has to run and hide,” Hawaii Nurses Association President Daniel Ross said. “Security doesn’t respond for 40 minutes, that is unacceptable.”

KHON2 spoke with nurses from Queen’s Punch Bowl, West Oahu, and Hale Pulama Mau, which is a satellite campus on the Kuakini Medical Center property which doesn’t have its own security.

Ross says it has been the worst there.

“Two main concerns there is they have ridiculous nurse and patient ratios,” Ross said. “The other glaring thing is absolute lack of security.”

A Hale Pulama Mau nurse who wants to remain anonymous says she is physically or verbally abused every day, including incidents where she’s been punched in the ribs and eye.

“Today, I just got slapped by one of my patients,” the nurse said. “This patient, in particular, likes to scratch, likes to dig the nails. You’re told ‘Oh, just put socks on. Put socks on your patient’s hands.'”

They’re asking for more security, and a zero-tolerance policy for violence and threats. That means the immediate discharge of violent patients. Many nurses feel like they’re being blamed.

“A lot of management say ‘Oh, what could you have done better in that situation? What could you have done that wouldn’t lead to that moment?'” the anonymous nurse said.

“Almost every one of the nurses that I’ve spoken to who’ve been victims of abuse, either sexual or physical, has said that they were asked questions such as what could you have done differently, to prevent? So basically blaming the victim,” Ross said.

Queen’s declined an interview Monday but issued a statement.

The safety of our patients and staff is the highest priority at The Queen’s Medical Center. Workplace violence is a troubling issue, nationally and locally, and we take all reports of violence against our patients and staff seriously. We have convened a Workplace Violence Prevention Committee which is committed to implementing best practices addressing workplace violence, and we look forward to continuing to work with our nurses, our employees, and our unions to keep staff safe when caring for our patients.

Cedric Yamanaka
Director, Corporate Communications
The Queen’s Health Systems

The nurses say the violence has increased in the past year. One who works for Queen’s West Oahu tells KHON2 that they had an incident Sunday night in which a man in his 30’s was throwing things at staff, after being dismissed he was let back into the facility 30 minutes later and began threatening a security guard.

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The nurse says she is getting numb to it all.