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'100% preventable': Paramedic furious she was attacked at St. Louis hospital

After more than two weeks of asking SSM Health for an on camera interview, our I-Team’s Paula Vasan gets answers about what they’re doing to prevent more violence.

ST. LOUIS — A paramedic, stabbed at SSM Health DePaul Hospital earlier this month, is sharing her story for the first time. She says her injuries came after years of begging management for help.

RELATED: 'Under-reported, pervasive and getting worse': Health care workers attacked by patients

“I got five stitches on my back, five staples right here, I had blood and air in my lung," said Kayla McMahan, a paramedic at SSM Health DePaul Hospital. 

“I'm angry because this never should have happened. This was something that was 100% preventable. This is something that, I mean, my life and my friend's life could've been ended," she said. 

“I've been there for 10 years," she said.

Her last day at work was July 11. She was sitting inside the emergency department, when a patient she never saw before attacked her, stabbing her two times with a knife. She saw her friend stabbed in her neck. 

“And then I think I blacked out because I don't remember falling," said McMahan.

“Did you ever expect that you'd be a victim at work?” asked the I-Team's Paula Vasan.

“We always said at DePaul, it was never if. It was when," said McMahan.

Because for years, McMahan said she and her colleagues have been begging management for more security officers and metal detectors as they’ve seen violence in the ER worsen.

“And it fell on deaf ears," she said.

“I've called security, my own security office in my own hospital. And I'm put on hold while I'm dealing with a screaming patient in the background because there's not enough security guards," said McMahan. “I mean, we've told SSM that we've we've needed safety. We've told them numerous times, and they wrote back, well, we're looking at the funding.”

The action was too little too late, said her attorney Emily Kalla.

“This was a completely foreseeable event, this was a completely preventable event. And the measures that should have been in place to take care of their medical staff were not in place," said Kalla. 

“So, unfortunately, what happened to Kayla is not an isolated event. These situations have been on the rise. It's my understanding that the hospital systems are aware that they're on the rise and they have taken some measures, but we don't believe that they've taken enough measures to prevent these issues," said Kalla. 

After more than two weeks of asking SSM Health leaders for an on-camera interview, they agreed. 

“Can SSM Health be doing more to make sure employees are safe?” asked Vasan. 

“Our top priority is always protecting our staff. There's always things that can be done," said Dr. Alexander Garza, SSM Health's Chief Community Health Officer.

“We're not going to rest until we take care of them and that we can provide that security," he said. "You know, nobody should feel afraid or feel concerned to come to work any day. And we're not going to stop until we can make sure that people do feel confident every time they come into work. If we want to have these welcoming and open places where we can go to get care, that also takes a commitment from the community, from our society, from everybody that this is you know, hospitals are their sacred place."

Since the stabbing, doctor Garza said the hospital system has hired more security officers, added metal detectors, and enforced more training.

“We're pushing up the timeline on when these things get rolled out. You know, part of that is listening to the staff, seeing what the issues are and then and then acting on them," he said. 

“It's a Band-Aid on a bullet hole at this point," said McMahan.

McMahan believes hospital systems too often put profit over people. It’s why she says she’s speaking up for coworkers, for herself, and for health care workers everywhere. 

“I don't want this to ever happen again. Like that shouldn't be a thing. We shouldn't have news stories of nurses being assaulted," she said. 

McMahan is now preparing to file a lawsuit, alleging violence against staff has increased, and not enough was done to protect them. A spokesperson with SSM Health says they can’t comment on pending litigation.

SSM HEALTH EMAILED COMMENTS:

An SSM Health spokesperson told us in an email: “SSM Health has made significant and immediate investments in security measures across the SSM Health system, including additional on-site security officers. We’re always looking for qualified team members with a commitment to our Mission and the role safety plays in a healing environment.”

Last week, a spokesperson emailed us saying: “SSM Health DePaul Hospital also now has an armed guard in the emergency department 24 hours per day. 

As part of our ongoing commitment to safety, we’ve spent the past several months conducting an extensive systemwide evaluation of our physical environments, while also seeking input from team members who participate in our workplace violence committees at the local and system level. As a result, we are making significant, and immediate, additional investments in the following security measures across SSM Health systemwide: 

• Additional on-site security officers with expanded education and training 

• State-of-the-art weapons detection technology and systems in key areas (ex. Emergency Department entrances) that are significantly more advanced than traditional metal detectors. We immediately added a metal detector in the Emergency Room at SSM Health DePaul Hospital until the weapons detection technology can be implemented. DePaul Hospital is the sixth hospital in the St. Louis market to utilize metal detectors in the emergency department. In total, four of the six hospitals are part of the SSM Health system. 

• Redesign of our current physical environments to further strengthen safety and security 

• Centralization and standardization of our security function to oversee this critical work across SSM Health 

Ongoing training is a key element for a successful workplace violence prevention program. All employees are required to receive ongoing training on relevant workplace violence prevention topics. Employees receive specialized training through an evidence-based training program according to their role. We use Crisis Prevention Intervention (CPI) training which is a nationally recognized program.”

We asked about open security officer positions. An SSM Health spokesperson tells us: “Yes, we have both dispatch and security positions posted. We are always looking for qualified team members with a commitment to our Mission and the role safety plays in a healing environment.”

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