Brutal Southeast DC hospital attack prompts call for change

Nurses are calling for change after a vicious attack at Saint Elizabeths Hospital in Southeast.

Just over a month ago, nurse Lateefat Coker was badly beaten by a patient, one of nearly 3,000 assaults on employees by patients since 2014.

"When you come to work at Saint Elizabeths, you pray to go home alive," Coker said.

She says in two decades working as a nurse, she's experienced a lot, but never something like this.

"They throw urine on me before, they spat on me, whatever," she said. "But not in this capacity ever."

She says a patient jumped over the nurse's station, yanked a telephone out of the wall and hit her with it.

"I suffered a facial fracture. I suffered fractured ribs and have bruises all over my face, on my back, on my shoulder, on my side," Coker said.

Saint Elizabeths is the city-run psychiatric facility that houses mentally ill criminals. Coker has been there for seven years, but is unsure whether she'll return. This week, she and other nurses from the hospital went before D.C. Council's committee on health.

They said the set-up of the nurses stations is one of their biggest safety concerns because patients are able to jump over the desk. They also want more security and response teams ready in the event of an attack. According to data provided by the city, there were more than 520 assaults on staff last year by patients. Since 2014, there have been nearly 3,000 assaults.

"We should not expect to not make it home," one nurse said at the hearing.

Saint Elizabeths CEO Mark Chastang was also at the meeting and promised nurses stations would undergo construction and be secured by June.

Wala Blegay, an attorney for District of Columbia Nurses Association, says nurses have been calling for changes for years. She hopes finally after such a tragedy, they'll see action.

"You do not want another one of my nurses to experience what this nurse is going through," said Blegay.

She said nurses will meet with Chastang next week.

In a statement, Chastang said: "The safety of our staff and patients is a top priority at Saint Elizabeths Hospital. We continue to work diligently to ensure we have the proper equipment, facilities and personnel training in place to operate a safe and efficient hospital. Within the next 120 days we will implement a number of facility and process improvements that will further enhance safety and reduce assaults on staff and patients."