(COLORADO) — Kay DeLuca worked in the UCHealth system until she was assaulted by a patient who has since been charged with Assault on a Peace Officer, later becoming a legal case, and she didn’t feel that the hospital gave her the support she needed.

DeLuca worked as a charge nurse at UCHealth Medical Center of the Rockies in Loveland until November of 2021. A charge nurse is like a nurse supervisor over numerous patients. In DeLuca’s case, she was the charge nurse over a 24-bed trauma unit. She was supposed to be the one giving oversight and trainings for other nurses, along with some administrative work.

“Patients are becoming more violent, but I don’t think that the hospitals are stepping up and doing their portion to protect us as nurses,” DeLuca said. She was assaulted by a patient in October of 2021 and suffered both physical and mental trauma as a result of that attack.

The patient, Torey Peavy, had been in the system for about 30 days according to DeLuca, who said there was a lack of communication as to how violent the patient had been. Between these issues and what DeLuca described as improper staffing, it created an atmosphere where the assault could occur. At around 4 a.m. that October morning Peavy bit DeLuca.

The bite dislodged an implant from Peavy leading to surgeries and infections for DeLuca. “I’ve had four surgeries, I’ve had infections. I ended up losing my breast over it. I just had part of my pec muscle removed,” DeLuca said.

Prior to this, there had been other issues. In at least one other encounter, DeLuca described a confrontational man whose wife was a patient.

She said, “I had a situation where we had a patient’s husband that got verbally abusive, was all but ready to hit me. I had gone in as charge nurse. Thankfully, another male nurse came in, was able to kind of get in between us, and called security. They did escort him out, but they allowed him in the next day. Their version of it, well, he was just ‘New York loud.’ No, we need to have rules. Zero tolerance to me means zero tolerance. It’s a privilege to visit somebody, it’s also a privilege to get health care.”

DeLuca decried the action or lack thereof behind UCHealth’s zero-tolerance policy in this example.

Within a month of the assault on DeLuca, she saw another patient exhibiting similar behaviors. DeLuca said, “Fast forward… in mid-November, had a similar patient and went to go restrain him. And I felt like I had almost a lapse in judgment, like ‘could I properly care for him as a nurse?’ And so I walked away that night and I have not been back.”

DeLuca suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder which was not originally recognized as a workman’s compensation issue. After getting legal representation, it is now a workman’s comp case. DeLuca chose to press charges against Peavy.

“I pressed charges and it was because I had an amazing practitioner in the emergency room that said, if we don’t stop and start prosecuting these people, we’re saying it’s okay,” she said.

Her case is in the court system but she thinks Peavy will plea down the charges for the assault due to another case against him.

DeLuca said that nurses and healthcare professionals have become accustomed to receiving abuse, but that the pandemic made it worse. “We’re used to being abused. I hate to say that, like, I quit wearing my stethoscope around my neck years ago because it’s a weapon and, you know, somebody will grab it and try to strangle you with it,” she said.

UCHealth among other healthcare systems does teach and train its professionals on ways to deal with aggressive patients that could become violent. DeLuca criticized some of the training and the necessity for it but also said that more personnel, both healthcare and security, are needed to counter the rise in violence.

UCHealth said, “While we cannot comment on a personnel issue, UCHealth greatly cares about the health and safety of every one of our nearly 30,000 employees. We have a zero-tolerance policy for disruptive behavior or violent actions, including yelling, swearing, insults, threats to others, physical attacks, and tampering with or destroying any property.”

The health system said that it takes several steps to ensure that members of their staff who have been involved in a violent interaction receive the support, care, and resources they need. “This includes an immediate security assessment of the situation, after which safety and well-being resources are provided to the impacted staff members,” UCHealth said

UCHealth shared some alarming statistics as well. A recent National Institutes of Health study showed that healthcare workers are five times more likely to be injured than those in other fields. A Press Ganey analysis found that two nurses are assaulted every hour.

Some ways that UCHealth has addressed this issue are “increased security presence and patrols in our hospitals and clinics; training for staff on violence de-escalation and prevention; a new code process for staff to call for assistance when someone is escalating; signage to patients and family members that threatening or abusive language and behavior will not be tolerated; and behavioral health and support groups for staff and providers.”