Ashley Schade is a nurse in intensive care, where difficult days aren’t in short supply.
But Sept. 16 was particularly tough.
A patient allegedly choked her during a shift — an act that left marks on her neck, as well as emotional trauma.
The man is charged with a felony. His family said he has no violent history, and recent medical issues changed his mental state.
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For Schade, a nurse at Kadlec Regional Medical Center in Richland, the experience was frightening.
“Let me tell you, having a strong individual’s hands around your neck, the inability to breathe, let alone call for help, to the point where you can’t see a thing and can only hear an emergency ‘staff assist’ tone going off, is one of the absolutely gut-wrenching, most terrifying feelings anyone could ever imagine,” she wrote in Facebook post.
Her account has gone viral, shared more than 62,000 times.
And it’s put a local face on a national problem: violence against health care workers.
“It’s statewide. It’s nationwide. It’s industry-wide,” said Jayson Dick, a nurse representative for the Washington State Nurses Association, or WSNA, which represents thousands of nurses around the state, including at Kadlec in Richland.
The issue isn’t limited to ICUs or emergency rooms — or to any one department or hospital, he said.
“Wherever nurses are giving care, there is the potential that they could end up in a violent encounter,” he said.
The Sept. 16 incident was the second recent episode of violence against a Kadlec employee.
On Sept. 9, an emergency department patient “scratched, kicked, punched, hit and slammed” a nurse against a wall, hurting five staffers in all, according to information from the nurses association.
The group claims Kadlec “failed to provide adequate safety procedures and adequate security staff.”
The association is calling on Kadlec and all hospitals in Washington to “ensure adequate staffing of nurses, other health care workers and security personnel, along with needed training on how to handle violent medical patients.”
In a statement, Kadlec said it’s concerned about the trend of violence in health care settings and takes threats against staff seriously.
Employee and patient safety is its highest priority, the hospital said.
“It is for this reason that we continually seek ways to enhance the safeguards we have in place. We work closely with our security team and the Richland Police Department to regularly evaluate our safety and security procedures,” the statement said.
“We are also engaged in reviewing, and if necessary, improving our protocols to help deter future incidents, and will do everything we can to maintain a safe environment,” the hospital said in its statement.
Kadlec officials also added that, “we fully support the affected members of our caregiver staff and their well-being. We are working with these caregivers and their co-workers to help them through these ordeals.”
Schade wasn’t ready last week to talk about her experience, but she wrote in her post that she wants to shine a light.
“I’m putting this out there to bring awareness of what is happening in hospitals. Not just in big cities, but right here. Just because you are in the hospital does not mean there are no laws and no moral responsibility,” she wrote. “You cannot strangle people. You cannot sexually harass people. You cannot hit, kick, bite, scratch, spit on, or call people names. And by people, I mean those folks who sacrifice time with their families, their bladders, and their sanity to care for you in every single way. It is not okay.”
Here’s how court documents describe what happened Sept. 16:
Schade was changing Bruce S. Darling’s IV when he started to pull it out and she told him to stop.
“According to the victim, the defendant then stated, ‘I’m going to kill you,’ and then grabbed the victim with both arms and pulled her close to him,” a probable cause document said. “The victim stated the defendant then wrapped his arms around her neck and held tight. As the defendant began squeezing, the victim was unable to breathe.”
Schade estimated it lasted 20-30 seconds, until several nurses ran to help, the document said.
Darling told another staffer he knew what he’d done and “‘if anyone else comes near me, I will kill them, too,’” the document said.
The 65-year-old has been charged with second-degree assault in Benton County Superior Court.
His family told the Herald that he’s a caring husband, father and grandfather with no history of violence or past brushes with the law.
His recent medical troubles changed his mental state, said Linda Mar, his oldest daughter.
The former Hanford worker had a heart attack at the beginning of September, followed by quadruple bypass surgery, Mar said. He also has Parkinson’s disease and diabetes, and he’s been treated successfully for bipolar disorder for several years.
While he normally is the rock of his family, in the ICU he was confused and combative — not his usual self, Mar said.
“You could tell, this is not the man I know,” she said, adding that doctors told the family he had delirium.
Mar spoke with the Herald, along with her sister and mother. Several other friends and relatives also wrote character references that describe Darling as a stable man with no history of violence.
Nationwide, workplace violence in health care is a growing issue.
An American Nurses Association survey of nurses and nursing students found that 25 percent of respondents had been physically assaulted at work by a patient or patient’s family member.
WSNA surveyed its members about safety last year, with 86 percent of respondents saying they’d experienced or witnessed a violent incident, assault or threatening behavior at work, and 53 percent saying they viewed workplace violence as a serious problem.
In her post, Schade thanked people who’ve reached out and offered support.
“And words can never explain how grateful I am to my work family for your quick actions and unwavering support. We are a team and I love you all ... we will make a difference so that we are safe at work,” she wrote.