Published DateBy Daymond Steer
EFFINGHAM — The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has issued Lakeview NeuroRehabilitation Center a citation for allegedly exposing employees to aggressive clients who physically assault them. Lakeview is contesting OSHA.
According to OSHA, employees are "exposed to physical abuse while working with abusive patients by themselves." The citation is based on an inspection conducted between Dec. 6 and May 20. The inspection was a result of a complaint that was brought forward by former Lakeview employee Nancylee Berman who had been a teacher's assistant at Lakeview for about three months. Berman worked at Lakeview until the end of 2012.
Berman said she left Lakeview so quickly because she felt the clients were not being served and because she felt her safety was in jeopardy because Lakeview admitted dangerous clients it couldn't handle.
"I didn't want to be the one stabbed in the back by a piece of glass or have my head put into a wall by a client who should not have been there to begin with," said Berman. "I value my head."
Berman said most of the staff are compassionate people but the management doesn't care about them. She said dangerous clients are the minority of those that Lakeview serves.
OSHA, in a letter to Berman, said that OSHA determined that Lakeview violated a section of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 called the "General Duty Clause." This finding is based on injury records, programs and policies; and employee and management interviews, according to OSHA.
The "citation and notification of penalty" was issued to Lakeview on May 24. It alleges the following:
"On or about Dec. 6, 2012, at 244 Highwatch Road, Effingham, N.H., direct-care employees working with clients who pose a risk to themselves or others, were exposed to workplace violence hazards when they interacted with these clients, especially when engaging with escalating clients," states the citation. "The employees have suffered puncture wounds from stabbing, concussion and or contusion from hits to the skull, kicks to the nose causing broken nose, kicks to the abdomen/stomach, kicks to the groin, dislocated shoulders, and injuries to the knee, wrist, eyes, neck, arms, legs and back, when working with clients in the school or residential areas, and when escorting them on campus, as the clients become combative (including, but not limited to, stabbing, pulling, pushing, punching, biting and kicking). This has resulted in workplace violence that is likely to cause death and or serious physical harm. The employer had not developed and/or implemented adequate measures to protect its employees from this hazard."
OSHA then provided Lakeview with over a dozen acceptable means to abate the situation. Those include policy and training recommendations.
Berman believes the OSHA's recommendations would help relieve some of the symptoms of Lakeview's bad management. Berman talked about what she thinks are some of the most important things that OSHA has mandated.
One suggestion was for Lakeview to have a pool of staff members, who are well trained and not assigned to a client on a one to one basis, who could offer extra help in the event of an emergency. Another was for Lakeview to provide staff with "a reliable way" to call for help when needed. That could include walkie talkies or alarms.
Berman said in her experience, staff, needing help in a crisis, may have to wait for 10 or 15 minutes if help even comes at all.
OSHA's recommendations also includes clarifying the written policy for when law enforcement can be called to respond to a violent attack or a threat. There was a controversy about that in November.
Lakeview staff member, Susan Gagne, was attacked by a client and called 9-1-1 as she said she was supposed to do. Gagne was working at a Lakeview facility in Freedom. Lakeview's executive director Thomas Horan told Freedom selectmen that he would have preferred it if that call wasn't made.
OSHA's citation requires Lakeview to abate the violation by July 12. In addition to the suggested improvements, OSHA also sought a $7,000 fine. OSHA gave Lakeview a June 17 deadline to challenge the citation and notification of penalty.
"The company has contested OSHA's findings and are currently working with the OSHA area office," said Andre Bowser of OSHA public affairs adding it might take a month for the matter to be resolved.
Lakeview didn't respond to repeated requests for comment.
Late last year, whistle blowers from Lakeview said the facility was too understaffed to protect its patients from themselves and others.
On Sunday, June 9 a Lakeview client, named Joelle, went missing after walking away from the facility. She was found the following Tuesday near the top of Green Mountain. Joelle was treated for hypothermia when she was located.
Lakeview released a statement after Joelle was found. It said Joelle was 'well' and 'uninjured.'
Berman quit soon after launching her complaint to OSHA. Berman has a BA with some graduate work from Hunter College in New York and taught college students with disabilities as well as the general population. She has also been a student advocate.