Seattle Children's Hospital nurses fear for safety, demand change

Nurses at Seattle Children’s Hospital say they are terrified of going into work due to the fear of injury or worse on the job.

More than 40 nurses in the psychiatry and behavioral medicine unit of Seattle Children's are demanding change. Nurses say they are short-staffed, they are lacking resources, and they are facing violent situations almost every day.

According to the nurses’ union, in the last two weeks, things have gotten so bad that police were called on two separate occasions.

"If I do start to feel the anxieties, the fears of potentially being harmed, or seeing children harmed at work, requires a lot of grounding," said Charlie Elkins.

Elkins is a charge nurse at Seattle Children’s Hospital. She has worked with the hospital for about four-and-a-half years.

Elkins says recently, she has had to mentally prepare before walking into work.

"I’ve never had to worry this much about will I have enough staff, which staff am I going to have to mandatory to stay for 16 hours. Who’s going to get hurt? Am I going to get hurt?" said Elkins.

Injury is a real fear.

Elkins says a patient attacked her and gave her a concussion. She had to leave work, which was a tough decision due to the low staffing numbers and resources.

But these types of situations are becoming a regular occurrence.

FOX 13 News obtained a document from the union, which lists more than a dozen dangerous incidents that happened over the last couple of months, involving patients and staff.

For instance, on November 13, a patient reportedly broke a meal lid into multiple pieces. One piece was sharpened to a point, and the patient made multiple stabbing motions toward staff, and threatened them verbally. On that same day, four staff members were injured at work, according to the document.

Elkins is one of 44 nurses who signed a letter demanding Seattle Children’s hospital make things safer for staff and patients.

The nurses are asking for three safety officers to be present during the day, and one safety officer to work overnight.

They asked for three additional nurse roles to provide help to staff working directly with patients. They say the nurse-to-patient ratio should not exceed one nurse for every eight patients. 

The nurses are also asking for double pay during this crisis.

Elkins says these children are not the problem. They need mental health care. She says she wants to continue making a positive impact on the lives of these children in need, but if things do not improve, she may not be able to continue doing the work.

"I don’t have a lot of wiggle room to experience more head trauma," she said.

FOX 13 News reached out to Seattle Children’s Hospital for an interview. They provided a statement that is in full below:

"Our country is facing an escalating youth mental and behavioral health crisis and the demand for services remains alarmingly high. The safety, security and well-being of Seattle Children’s patients and workforce is our top priority and we have intensified efforts over the past several months to address this demand. Last month, we opened an Emergency Operations Center in response to the mental health crisis, to streamline communication and decision-making and immediately address concerns. Seattle Children’s has brought in additional staffing resources and increased both leader and security presence on the Psychiatry and Behavioral Medicine Unit (PBMU). The team is also actively seeking travel nurses to provide supplemental staffing and patient care. 

"While these critical steps support the immediate safety of our workforce and patients, Seattle Children’s cannot solve this crisis alone. This work is ongoing, and we are actively collaborating with external partners at the local, state, and federal level to identify and eliminate barriers and find rapid solutions to address the extremely high number of patients seeking care for mental and behavioral health crises across the state. Greater investment in youth mental health is critical to build a pediatric mental health system that encompasses upstream prevention to the highest acuity and complexity to meet the needs of Washington’s youth."