Changes ahead after attacks on employees at state hospital?

Changes ahead after attacks on employees at state hospital?

SALEM, Ore. – Employees at the Oregon State Hospital are asking for protection because they're being attacked on the job by patients, KATU reported last week.

An employee says he was assaulted just this week.

Scott Walliman says a patient, who'd just been transferred from maximum to minimum security, stabbed him in the head multiple times.

"There was four or five different puncture spots," Walliman, a mental health therapist at the hospital, said about wounds from a pen. He was also scratched on the arm and suffered a black eye.

"He first hit me on the side of the face, which I wasn't expecting as I was turned back around, and pretty quickly was up around my neck ... hanging on my back, and it was unclear where he'd gotten the pen but started stabbing me on the top of my head," he said.

A bill was up in the Oregon Legislature that would have elevated attacks on state hospital employees from misdemeanors to felony charges. But it died last week in committee.

"You've got a systemic issue out there that needs to be addressed," said Sen. Jackie Winters.

Winters says she's found a workaround - $160,000 over the next two years – dedicated to prosecuting assaults at the state hospital. She says she came up with this after conversations with Marion County's district attorney.

"The law alone would not solve the problem," she said. "The law is already there, really. It's the ability to actually execute the law."

Walliman says he hopes that will make a difference since right now he believes the violent patients often skirt the law in a way that puts everyone on the hospital campus in danger.

"In this case they know there's not a lot we can do as far as pressing charges, so it's an open free for all," he said.

Winters' proposal is part of the public safety budget, which still has to be approved. In the meantime, someone like Walliman is left hoping prosecutors will take his case and file charges against the patient he says attacked him.

But prosecuting a mental health patient is no regular case. Experts need to be called in to testify that the person is able to aid and assist in his own defense. And it has to be shown the patient knowingly intended to harm someone.

All that adds to the cost of the cases, and Winters says the money just hasn't been there to go after violent patients.

If you have a story for any of our On Your Side Investigators, send them an email at investigators@katu.com.