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Nurse attacked by patient sues state hospital

State House Bureau

February 21. 2018 8:44PM

CONCORD — A former nurse at New Hampshire Hospital is suing the psychiatric facility and the state Department of Health and Human Services, claiming her warnings about a dangerous patient who later assaulted her were ignored, leading to serious injury.

Harriet Redmond of Laconia and her husband are seeking unspecified damages through a jury trial. Lawyers for both sides were in Merrimack County Superior Court on Wednesday for a hearing on the state’s motion to dismiss, which the judge took under advisement.

The state argues that Redmond was covered by workers compensation, is now receiving payments and is ineligible to sue under workers compensation law.

The lawsuit, filed in October, comes as the Executive Council is expressing concern about the large number of compensation cases it has had to approve in recent months for employees injured at New Hampshire Hospital or the Sununu Youth Services Center.

Redmond had been employed at the hospital since 2011 at the time of the attack in 2014. The lawsuit claims that she warned her supervisor, Dr. David G. Folks, then chief medical officer at NHH, that a patient in her care was a danger to himself and others, and should be transferred to the Secure Psychiatric Unit (SPU) at the state prison.

The lawsuit, filed on behalf of the Redmonds by Concord attorney Jim Bianco, makes disturbing allegations about the criteria used to transfer patients from the state hospital to the state prison.

“Based upon the signs that (the patient) was dangerous and losing control, Ms. Redmond recommended to Dr. Folks that NHH transfer the patient to the SPU before he hurts himself or somebody else,” according to the lawsuit, which goes on to allege that Dr. Folks told Redmond, “the patient would not be removed from NHH or transferred to the SPU until after he hurts somebody.”

The lawsuit claims that NHH has failed to establish a policy or plan regarding the transfer of involuntarily admitted patients with mental illness from the state hospital to the prison unit.

“NHH and the SPU have an unwritten policy that patient transfers to or from either location are sometimes effectuated by way of a swap,” according to the lawsuit, “meaning that if NHH wishes to transfer a dangerous patient to the SPU, NHH would have to receive a patient from the SPU in exchange.”

Punched in the face

In May 2014, Redmond was in a hospital room with the patient and two other staff members, when the patient stood up and violently punched her in the face.

Citing information corroborated by the other witnesses and police reports, the lawsuit says the punch was so hard that Redmond’s head became misshapen.

The patient is described as a 6-foot, 40-year-old male weightlifter, who attacked Redmond, a 5-foot, 69-year-old woman weighing 145 pounds.

The punch caused her head to strike the concrete wall behind her. One of the staff members in the room feared that she’d been killed, as she let out a brief scream, followed by silence.

“The floor of the room was covered in blood from Ms. Redmond’s injuries,” according to the lawsuit.

The emergency diagnosis at Concord Hospital included facial lacerations, nasal bone fracture, mild concussion, and a right orbital fracture. Redmond remains under medical care with multiple physical and psychological conditions, and is in danger of losing her vision altogether.

“The brutal assault has stripped Ms. Redmond of her full sense of self, her personal identity and her sense of purpose,” according to her attorneys.

The patient was found incompetent to stand trial in a 2015 hearing and was civilly committed to the SPU.

Assistant Attorney General Lynmarie Cusack, defending the state agencies, says New Hampshire law bars an employee from bringing a lawsuit against an employer for personal injuries sustained on the job when worker’s compensation coverage is in effect.

“That the necessary workers’ compensation insurance was in place is indisputable,” according to Cusack, “since the plaintiff has actually collected benefits under the policy.”

Newly appointed New Hampshire Hospital CEO Lori Shibinette, who took office in October, has launched a study to determine if attacks on employees at state-run health facilities are on the rise, and if so, why. She is also reviewing the department’s policies relating to workplace incidents.

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