Utah nurse calls for safety changes after alleged assault at state hospital

UPDATED: NOVEMBER 11, 2021 AT 11:51 AM

SALT LAKE CITY — A Utah nurse is filing a lawsuit against the state after she says she was assaulted by a patient while working at the Utah State Hospital.

Nurse Jennette Pearson said she knows there are inherent dangers when working with the severely mentally ill, but she claims the hospital is understaffed and, therefore, dangerous.

“I was doing an extra shift to help out the unit,” Pearson said. She said she’s been concerned about staffing shortages for a while.

Pearson said she was punched in the face by a patient while administering medications, which is part of her job.

Patients at the Utah State Hospital are often dangerous, as they are severely mentally impaired. Pearson suffered a concussion along with a goose egg on her head and a black eye. She’s been home since the attack happened on Oct. 25.

She said she loves her job and feels it’s her calling to help those who are mentally ill. But she wants the state to step in to ensure safety at the hospital for staff and patients.

For now, Pearson says she hopes to feel better by Monday since she can’t afford to stay home on 60% workers’ compensation pay. But she’s concerned.

“I still have headaches,” she said. “I get tired. I think there’s probably some lingering depression.”

The Utah Department of Human Services released a statement to KSL TV, which reads: “Staff and patient safety are paramount to our 24/7 care for individuals with severe mental illness. Any injury to staff or patient is unacceptable. We carefully review each incident to learn from it, take immediate action, and make changes to prevent it from happening again. We are cooperating with law enforcement and prosecutors, and are conducting our own review to make safety improvements where needed.”

Pearson said she’s heard lots of reasons for why there’s no more money for safety measures. She believes it’s time for state leaders to figure that out so she can go back to doing what she loves — without getting beat up.

“On our level, on the employee level, we want to be able to go home, to come back to work the next day,” she said.

Pearson added the patient that hit her has still been charged in connection to her attack. If he were to be charged, he would be moved to a higher-security area of the hospital.