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OSHA investigates brutal attacks on Pembroke Hospital nurses

by: Christine McCarthy Updated:

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PEMBROKE, Mass. - A local nurse whose ear was nearly ripped off in an attack at Pembroke Hospital last weekend is one of several hospital workers who have been assaulted, prompting actions by OSHA.

Patient Rasheed Avinger, 22, pleaded not guilty on Monday to charges of assault and battery with serious injury, assault and battery on ambulance personnel and mayhem, the Plymouth District Attorney's Office said Tuesday.

Avinger is accused of attacking other staff at the psychiatric hospital before being restrained and transferred on Saturday, when he managed to free his left hand and brutally assault the nurse, the Pembroke police report states.

"As (the nurse) attempted to assist with the transfer, Avinger grabbed her right ear with his left hand and tore it away from her head," according to the nurse's statement. She "also suffered deep scratches around her eye when Avinger attempted to gouge out her right eye."

The nurse received six stitches to reattach her right ear. Doctors said she will have a permanent scar.

Another nurse, who asked not be identified, told FOX25 she, too, was badly injured on the job at Pembroke Hospital last Christmas Eve. She is now home recovering and receiving workers compensation.

"I had bruises all over me. He dropkicked me on my new knee, and he ripped a handful of hair out of my head," she said. "I don't think I can go back there. I have nightmares. I have anxiety when people get too close behind me."

She said she and only two other workers had been covering 20 patients, some of them very violent. That staff-to-patient ratio at the 120-bed hospital is dangerous, she said.

"Somebody's going to get killed there," she said. "In that situation, it was me and them two trying to save me."

She says the hospital not only needs more staff, but also a panic button.

OSHA began an inspection of the hospital last June following complaints and issued a hazard alert letter in October, citing a number of attacks on staff and recommending new safety measures.

"Mental Health Associates at Pembroke Hospital are exposed to work place violence hazards while working with acute patients receiving care at the hospital," the letter to hospital CEO Thomas Hickey states.

Last year, the agency charged with enforcing workplace safety laws  logged 13 incidents involving "injuries or lost or restricted time due to aggressive behavior." In 2014, there were 24 such incidents and 14 in 2013, according to OSHA's letter.

Pembroke Hospital did not respond to the letter, despite OSHA's request for a response, OHSA said. The hospital is not required to respond to OSHA, as the agency's findings did not rise to the level of a citation.

OSHA is following up and "gathering and reviewing information about Pembroke Hospital to determine its appropriate next steps," Dept. of Labor regional spokesman Ted Fitzgerald said Monday.

A hospital spokeswoman did not respond to FOX25's multiple requests for information on the matter.

Avinger was held without bail following his Monday arraignment. He was referred for a mental health evaluation and will return to court on March 25.