Nurses file workplace violence complaint in push for safer conditions in behavioral unit at South Side hospital

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Nurses at a hospital on Chicago's South Side say their safety and the safety of patients is in jeopardy.

The nurses work in the behavioral medicine and psychiatric department of Jackson Park Hospital.

For nearly 100 years, Jackson Park Hospital has served the South Shore community. While patients turn to it as a place for healing, these nurses from the behavioral medicine unit say they often experience hazards on the job, like work place violence from the people they're trying to take care of.

"They come in undertreated and oftentimes under the influence, which makes them very unstable and very unpredictable," said Marti Smith with the National Nurses Organizing Committee (NNOC).

The nurses are ramping up their push for safer working conditions on their unit.

Part of their fight is to get a glass barrier, which was removed during renovations, to be reinstalled around the nurses' station in the men's ward.

"They'll come and lean over the counter, and go in the drawers in the nurses' station and pull out stuff from there," registered nurse Elsie Melvin said.

Melvin has worked at Jackson Park Hospital for several years and says she has suffered verbal abuse from the patients, but is now worried that the absent barrier is making her vulnerable to physical abuse.

They also want the hospital to take steps to ensure the patients are safe as well.

"When the furniture isn't bolted down, a patient who's undergoing a crisis could easily pick up a chair and injure or kill another patient," Smith said.

"Secure the chairs and the tables," said fellow registered nurse Essie Coleman. "We asked that they could have security to be there all shifts stationed on our unit."

Currently, the security guards who are there only make hourly rounds, accounting to Coleman.

The nurses say are taking their concerns public because the hospital has not taken steps to improve their working conditions.

The nurses also filed a complaint with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration in January.

A hospital spokesperson says OSHA ended its investigation after finding the hospital meets the codes for patient care and safety. The hospital did also say that it takes the safety concerns of its staff seriously.
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