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Nurses get pushed around, again

Alexandra Wilson Pecci, for HealthLeaders Media, February 28, 2012

Aggression involving nurses is at the center of a he-said-she-said dispute that pits Douglas Kennedy, son of the late Robert Kennedy, against the nurses caring for his newborn son. It seems that a misunderstanding between the two parties somehow escalated into a physical confrontation that's gained national attention.

Kennedy was arrested on misdemeanor charges of child endangerment and harassment after a Jan. 7 struggle with two nurses at Northern Westchester Hospital in Mount Kisco, NY. According to media reports, the nurses allege that Kennedy twisted one of their wrists and kicked the other when they tried to stop him from taking his newborn son outside for some "fresh air."

In a statement provided to HealthLeaders Media, the hospital said:
"On January 7th, 2012 an incident occurred involving a patient's family member and NWH staff members. At Northern Westchester Hospital, patient safety is our priority and we completely support the actions of our nursing staff in this case as they were clearly acting out of concern for the safety of a newborn baby. Out of respect to all parties involved, we are not elaborating on the details of this incident or providing any additional comments."

Yet the folks in Kennedy's corner have come out swinging hard against the nurses, saying that they tried to grab at his baby. He calls the allegations against him "absurd" and "sickening," and says anything he did was simply an attempt to protect his son.

An emergency department doctor and family friend of Kennedy who witnessed the incident, calls the nurses the "only aggressors." And Kennedy's lawyer is accusing the nurses of trying to "cash in" on the events, according to media reports.

Surveillance camera footage of the incident shows the nurses trying to block Kennedy from leaving via the elevator and then the stairs. It also shows one of the nurses falling to the floor. The nurses said they called code pink, indicating child abduction.

Kennedy's attorney, Robert Gottlieb, said in an ABC News interview that his client was only trying to protect his baby. "One of the nurses actually goes to grab the baby. How dare she?"

It's hard to glean many details about the incident from the choppy security footage. But it seems even harder to imagine why any nurse would want to be an "aggressor" against a new dad.

In contrast, it is easy to imagine why a nurse would do everything she could  to protect a newborn and comply with rules that aim to prevent infant abduction.

Although data from the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children shows that infant abductions from hospitals are relatively rare—there were only 128 cases of completed infant abductions from healthcare facilities between 1983 and 2010—hospitals obviously take the threat of abductions very seriously.

Maternity wards are often locked, and the comings and goings of visitors and family are heavily monitored. Hospitals also tightly control babies' whereabouts; in some hospitals, babies wear security bracelets that trigger an alarm if they're carried beyond designated boundaries.

Penalties for lax security can be hefty: Last year, Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital, in Santa Barbara County, CA, was fined $50,000 after hospital staff failed to prevent a newborn from being abducted from the mother's room.

A HealthLeaders Media story reported that "the facility 'had no access control policy in place, i.e.: a defined methodology of who can come, go, and how to limit access to the security-sensitive MIU.' Also, state documents indicate that 'nurses were utilized as the access control mechanism, but were not adequately trained and when busy could not account for visitors or the security of the unit.'"

If the nurses involved in the Kennedy incident were simply trying to do their jobs, it's even more disturbing that they might have been hurt in the process. Of course, nurses are no strangers to violent and aggressive behavior.

Violence against nurses is "prevalent," according to 2009 research by the Emergency Nurses Association, which found that of 3,465 registered nurses who work in EDs or trauma centers in every state, one in four had experienced physical violence more than 20 times in the past three years.

AnnMarie Papa, DNP, RN, CEN, NE-BC, FAEN, president of the ENA and one of this year's HealthLeaders 20, is working to raise awareness of this problem. And violence against nurses isn't limited to the ED. I once witnessed a nine-year-old girl who was recovering from surgery attempt to kick, punch, and bite the nurses who tried to remove her catheter, while her mother stood idly by.

Anyone who's ever been on a maternity ward knows that security is—and should be—extremely tight. One can assume it was even tighter for the Kennedy family. Remember the scene at Lenox hill Hospital in New York last month after the birth of Beyoncé and Jay-Z's daughter, Blue Ivy Carter?

Patients on maternity wards should be grateful for and understanding of that level of security.

I don't claim to know what happened in this particular incident, but it's encouraging that the hospital is standing by its nurses. All parents—even high-profile ones—should understand although maternity ward security might seem excessive or overly cautious, it's simply in place to protect newborns.

So what if a nurse wants to check or double-check or triple-check your baby's safety? Be understanding. Comply with the rules. And say thank you.

Source: HealthLeaders Media