Report to OSHA: Pennsylvania Clinic Overlooks Worker Safety

January 3, 2013

Violence prevention efforts at a Pittsburgh psychiatric clinic where a gunman shot six people last year focus too much on patients and not enough on employee safety, a consultant hired by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration found.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Wednesday reported the findings by Jane Lipscomb, a professor at the University of Maryland Nursing School who was paid nearly $31,000 by OSHA to review workplace violence at the Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic. That’s where mentally ill gunman John Shick killed one worker and wounded five others before he was fatally shot by University of Pittsburgh campus police on March 8.

“WPIC’s workplace violence prevention efforts are completely overshadowed by patient safety considerations,” Lipscomb found, though she acknowledged “a number of initiative(s) designed to protect patients also infer staff safety.”

Still, she concluded, “WPIC’s management commitment to violence prevention is obscured by their nearly singular focus on patient safety.”

The newspaper obtained the consultant’s draft report, dated Aug. 31, through the federal Freedom of Information Act.

University of Pittsburgh Medical Center spokeswoman Gloria Kreps said the hospital network disagrees with the consultant’s suggestion that worker safety is overlooked and said UPMC strives to “protect the rights and safety of everyone in our facilities, including patients, staff and visitors.”

Kreps noted that OHSA didn’t cite the hospital network for safety violations after the shooting, though the agency did issue a letter advising UPMC how to better prevent workplace violence.

“All those recommendations either have been or are being implemented,” Kreps said. UPMC is spending about $10 million to upgrade security at the hospital.

Zachary Zobrist, vice president of SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania, the union representing about 200 clinic workers, said the consultant’s finding “reflects employee experiences there.”

“Any time something happens on a patient-safety issue, protocols are changed immediately. On the flip side, if it’s an employee that’s injured, things are very slow to change or they don’t change at all,” Zobrist said.

The union is currently embroiled in a dispute over alleged unfair labor practices with UPMC over efforts to unionize some workers at four other UPMC hospitals. The newspaper noted, also, that Lipscomb is married to the union’s national occupational health and safety director.

Lipscomb told the newspaper she believes there was a link between Shick’s shooting and workplace safety at the clinic, even though he wasn’t an inpatient or otherwise being treated by doctors there. Allegheny County investigators have said Shick was upset with UPMC doctors at another hospital who he believed had misdiagnosed stomach ailments from which he imagined he was suffering.

“There continues to be a strong reluctance to recognize the problem of workplace violence for fear of stigmatizing potential perpetrators of the violence,” Lipscomb wrote, “in particular the mentally ill and developmentally disabled.”

“WPIC policies to safeguard the rights of the mentally ill and developmentally disabled, while laudable, must be balanced with the right of workers to return home safely to their family at the end of each workday.”

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