St. Peter Workers Assaulted by Patients

James Hemshrot of AFSCME Local 404 takes a photo of himself in the ER after being assaulted by a patient at Minnesota Security Hospital.
James Hemshrot of AFSCME Local 404 takes a photo of himself in the ER after being assaulted by a patient at Minnesota Security Hospital.

Four workers were assaulted by patients at the Minnesota Security Hospital in St. Peter Wednesday, within 24 hours of moving into a new, safer unit.

The expansion was designed to eliminate blind spots and other safety hazards for patients and staff.

“Would this building alone take care of Safe Staffing and keep us safe?” asked security counselor lead James Hemshrot of AFSCME Local 404. “I think we’ve proved in 24 hours that it doesn’t. That’s just one part of the problem that we have. Staffing is another piece. Training is another piece.”

He says the new addition is better in many ways.

“There are not a lot of blind spots anymore,” he said. “Like any other new building, there are also things we don’t see until we’re in there. We’re finding out there are locks that are still not working. There are still spots that we can’t monitor. There are no cameras in different rooms that we feel like there should be cameras in. It’s been brought up to management just yesterday about things we should improve. They’ve given us their word they would help, they would fix it.”

Lack of adequate staffing and the design of a serving area helped lead to the assault Wednesday night. A staff member was giving patients snacks after they had gotten their medication, when a patient dived over the counter and started assaulting that person, who called for help. Hemshrot and others responded.

“The patient agreed to be moved into a restraint chair,” he says. “As we were picking him up to get him into the restraint chair, another staff person lost control of his hand. He ended up punching me in the face.”

Hemshrot and another staffer were injured and taken to the Emergency Room. He was treated for a sprained neck and lower back, plus wrist injuries. About an hour later, a different patient attacked two other workers, who required treatment in the ER, too, he said.

“I’ve had my shirt ripped, glasses broke, muscle pain, scratches, bruises,” Hemshrot said. “I feel like one of the lucky ones - I’ve only been assaulted twice.”

Yet he loves working at St. Peter, where he’s worked about 11 years.

“I see patients coming in in crisis, and you can see them work through the process and get better,” he says. “It’s cool to be out in the community, and you see one of these patients come up to you and say, ‘Hey, I’m doing great. I got a job.’ They’re taking their medications.

“I love to help people,” he said.

When he was assaulted this time around, he was working overtime with the most assaultive patients. In general, he figures he works 30 to 40 hours of overtime every two weeks, a “pretty normal” workload at St. Peter.

“We are low on staffing,” Hemshrot said. “It’s security counselors, it’s LPNs, it’s that front-line staffing we’re short on. When it comes to budgets and cutting numbers down, it seems like it’s always us who get cut. How can the Legislature look at the overtime expenses and say we don’t need the staffing?

“The Legislature only gives us half the tools to do our job. It’s frustrating.”