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Campaign Helps Reduce Violence in Minnesota Hospitals

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By Jennifer Munt and Clyde Weiss Explore the Issues Health & Safety Workers' Rights
Campaign Helps Reduce Violence in Minnesota Hospitals
Anne Menard, an LPN, was among the members of AFSCME Local 1307 (MN Council 5), who rallied for safe staffing at Anoka Regional Treatment Center on Workers Memorial Day (April 28). Photo credit: Michael Kuchta

Clocking in should never mean putting your life on the line.  Getting hurt should never be part of anyone’s job description.  That’s the bottom line for AFSCME Council 5 members who work in state-run mental health facilities in Minnesota.

Fed up with management’s lip service, workers escalated their campaign for workplace safety. 

“We’ve been taking a beating,” says Jackie Spanjers, an LPN and president of Local 1307 at Anoka Regional Treatment Center. “Patients spit on us and chase us with weapons.  They kick us, punch us, choke us and bite us.  They throw dangerous fluids on us – urine, feces, hot coffee and boiling bacon grease.”

Those injuries – and hundreds more – are documented on Safe Staffing MN, a Facebook community where workers share their stories and unite efforts to improve safety. Their high-profile media campaign exposed problems that supervisors wanted to keep secret. They got the attention of Gov. Mark Dayton and, with his support, claimed several early victories.

AFSCME Council 5 also increased public awareness with informational rallies. Here is what they’ve achieved since the Facebook postings began:

Spanjers, and Tim Headlee, president of AFSCME Local 404 and a security counselor at the Security Hospital, are two key union leaders who pressed for more staffing and safety improvements.

Headlee said attacks on hospital security personnel increased significantly after the settlement of a lawsuit in 2011, limiting the use of patient restraints. As a result, attacks on Security Hospital staff, alone, more than doubled since 2011. “It’s kind of frightening because we’re the last stop in the chain of mental health facilities,” he said. “There’s nowhere else to go” for these violent patients.

Frontline workers are demanding better training for physical encounters, permission to use mobile restraints that prevent patients from kicking and swinging, and an admissions unit where new patients are assessed before being placed with other patients and staff.

“We’ve raised our voices,” says Spanjers. “Our solutions aren’t falling on deaf ears anymore."