A direct-care worker at Osawatomie State Hospital remains in critical condition at a Kansas City, Kan., hospital after being assaulted by a patient.
Susan Murphy, 49, was taken by air ambulance Tuesday to the University of Kansas Hospital with serious head injuries.
Murphy’s co-workers describe her as a petite woman who has worked at the hospital for several years. Her alleged assailant, Jeff McCoy, 35, is listed on the Kansas Department of Corrections website as being 6 feet 2 inches and weighing 290 pounds.
Prior to being admitted to Osawatomie State Hospital, McCoy appears to have spent almost two years in the state’s correctional system after he was convicted of a 2011 battery on a mental health employee. His most recent discharge by the Department of Corrections was on August 11, 2014.
“Our initial report shows that (Murphy) was hit and punched in the face, fell to the ground and hit her head,” said Bob Butters, interim chief of police at the Osawatomie Police Department.
“She sustained very serious injuries and was life-flighted to the (KU) hospital,” Butters said. The case, he said, remains under investigation.
Since December 2014, admissions to Osawatomie State Hospital have been limited to patients with serious and persistent mental illnesses who are considered a danger to themselves or others.
Angela de Rocha, a spokesperson for the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services, said she could neither deny nor confirm that Murphy had been assaulted or that McCoy was her assailant.
She did provide a statement indicating that an “incident” had occurred Tuesday during breakfast in an activity center at Osawatomie State Hospital, that 27 patients and 10 staff were present, and that law enforcement officials were immediately summoned.
The patients were dining in the activity center, she said, because the commons areas in their “living facilities” were being painted.
The painting, de Rocha wrote in an email to KHI News Service, was “routine” and was not part of the renovation work that was ordered in January after federal surveyors cited the hospital for not doing enough to prevent suicidal patients from hanging themselves.
The renovation work, expected to cost $3.4 million, led to KDADS officials last month announcing plans for eventually reducing the 206-bed hospital’s census to 147 patients. Reducing the census likely will require a temporary moratorium on admissions during the construction, KDADS officials have said.
The census on Friday was 137, de Rocha said.
In late 2014, federal officials cited the hospital for being overcrowded and not doing enough to ensure proper medical care.
Rebecca Proctor, executive director at the Kansas Organization of State Employees, a labor union that represents many front-line workers at the hospital, said the assault was tragic but not surprising.
“It’s an unsafe, hazardous workplace,” she said. “They don’t have enough staff, and staff safety concerns are not taken seriously. We keep being told things are better now. But if that were the case, how could something like this happen?”
The union has long contended that the hospital is understaffed because workers are underpaid and often required to work double shifts.
State officials don’t believe that the hospital is understaffed or that the working conditions are unsafe, de Rocha said.
“Regardless of how attentive staff is to hospital patients, staff is sometimes injured by them,” she said. “This has always been true even though it is something that staff works hard to prevent.”
Workers’ concerns led Sen. Molly Baumgardner, a Republican from Louisburg, to invite KDADS officials to a March 2 town hall meeting in Osawatomie to discuss conditions at the hospital and address persistent rumors of the department’s desire to close the facility or privatize its operations.
KDADS Secretary Kari Bruffett said the agency had no intention of closing the hospital but would be open to privatization if there was reason to believe it would improve patient care.
Contacted Friday, Baumgardner said she was unaware of the assault.
“This is the first I’ve heard of this,” she said. “But as soon as I get off the phone, I assure you I’ll be calling KDADS to find out what’s being done to make sure this (assault) doesn’t happen again.”
KDADS officials, Baumgardner said, recently assured her that they hoped the anticipated moratorium on admissions would lessen the hospital’s overtime demands and allow for increased training opportunities for employees.
“But this incident,” she said, referring to the assault, “gives me pause.”
Rick Cagan, executive director of the Kansas chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, said he worried that news of the assault would reinforce negative stereotypes.
“When something like this happens, it seems like ‘violence’ always finds its way into the headlines,” Cagan said. “That’s unfortunate — and what happened at Osawatomie is unfortunate — but the truth of the matter is that a very, very small percent of people with a mental illness engage in violent behavior. So what happened is genuine, but it’s an outlier.”