BRADENTON, FL – A federal administrative law judge has determined that a Bradenton behavioral healthcare center and its management company exposed workers to more than 50 attacks in a two-and-a-half-year period when residents kicked, punched, bit, scratched, pulled and used desk scissors as a weapon, and that both entities deserve to be sanctioned for destroying surveillance videos showing this workplace violence.

In a 170-page decision, U.S. Department of Labor Administrative Law Judge Dennis Phillips found UHS of Delaware Inc. – a hospital management company – and Premier Behavioral Health Solutions of Florida Inc. exposed workers to workplace violence, and showed bad faith in allowing the destruction of videos that showed instances of workplace violence at the facility. Premier operates as Suncoast Behavioral Health Center in Bradenton. UHS, one of the nation’s largest healthcare service providers, manages Suncoast Behavioral and more than 300 other behavioral health facilities nationwide.

The judge’s decision follows an Occupational Safety and Health Administration investigation at Suncoast in 2017 after a patient jumped over a nurse’s station and stabbed an employee with a pair of scissors. OSHA determined UHS of Delaware and Suncoast exposed employees to workplace violence hazards that included physical assaults and attacks on staff. OSHA cited Premier Behavioral Health Solutions and UHS and proposed penalties totaling $71,137.

“Violence, particularly against healthcare workers, is a leading cause of injury in the workplace. The U.S. Department of Labor will pursue all available legal actions to hold employers accountable and ensure they take all feasible steps to keep employees safe,” said Regional Solicitor Tremelle Howard in Atlanta.

In April and August 2019, the department’s Regional Office of the Solicitor in Atlanta conducted a 13-day hearing on the merits, during which 15 direct-care workers testified about their experiences with violence at the facility. Department attorneys established that between January 2016 and July 2018, at least 55 incidents of patients attacking staff occurred.

As part of his decision, Judge Phillips held UHS and Suncoast liable for the citation, and found existing measures taken to address the hazard of patient-on-staff violence woefully inadequate. The judge assessed a penalty of $12,934. In addition, the judge ordered the employers to pay $9,600 in attorney’s fees as a sanction for the employers’ bad faith destruction of relevant video surveillance evidence.

The judge found that UHS and Suncoast should implement abatement measures that include – but are not limited to – the following:

Developing and implementing a comprehensive workplace violence program.
Hiring staff with specialized training in security to be available on all shifts and on all units for the sole purpose of monitoring patients and responding to acts of patient aggression.
Performing practice drills on how to respond to acts of patient aggression, and reconfiguring the nurse’s station so patients are not able to jump over or into it.

This was the fourth trial against a UHS Inc. subsidiary brought by Regional Solicitors’ offices and the second in which the Solicitor of Labor and OSHA named UHS of Delaware as an employer in addition to the subsidiary facility.

Suncoast Behavioral Health Center is an acute psychiatric facility in Bradenton. The facility provides inpatient and outpatient treatment for children, adolescents, adults and mature adults who are experiencing emotional and behavioral issues.

Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, employers are responsible for providing safe and healthful workplaces for their employees. OSHA’s role is to help ensure these conditions for America’s workers by setting and enforcing standards, and providing training, education and assistance.

Learn more about strategies and tools on Preventing Workplace Violence in Healthcare and Guidelines for Preventing Workplace Violence for Healthcare and Social Services Workers.

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