The Ohio University Police Department responded to a call Jan. 26 about an intoxicated man outside Voigt Hall. The man was found laying on the ground with an injury and was unable to walk without assistance.
When the Athens County EMS was treating the man, he became combative and attempted to assault a medic. He was arrested on assault charges.
Lianne Dickerson, emergency department director at OhioHealth O’Bleness Hospital, said assaults in the emergency room do occur. The nurses at O’Bleness receive annual training in de-escalation techniques to deal with rowdy patients.
Dickerson said O’Bleness does not maintain numbers on how often intoxicated people assault employees.
Assaulting an EMT can result in a felony charge, and assaulting a hospital employee is a misdemeanor offense, OUPD Lt. Tim Ryan said.
Athens Police Department Chief Tom Pyle said charging intoxicated students for assaulting hospital staff is a legally “sticky situation.”
Pyle said law enforcement has to consider the level of intoxication of people and the condition that brought them to the ER.
“ER employees are subject to a physical assault on a regular basis but rarely — if ever — file complaints to our agency,” Pyle said. “The law has to prove that the person is voluntarily intoxicated. That’s the first hurdle you have to jump.”
Pyle said disorderly conduct statutes rarely apply because the person must be in public and recklessly causing a situation that creates the risk of physical harm to themselves, other people or property while being voluntarily intoxicated.
“If you have someone who is just angry and goes to the ER and punches someone then yes, absolutely we can charge them,” Pyle said. “If you have someone who may have ingested alcohol but is not intoxicated but clearly is under the influence, my question is why are they at the hospital in the first place? ... Each case can stand alone on its own.”
Visits to emergency rooms for drug- and alcohol-related incidents climbed from about 1.6 million in 2005 to nearly 2 million in 2008, according to the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. From 2006 to 2008, the number of those resulting in violence jumped from 16,277 to 21,406, according to an report.
According to the hospitals are allowed to the post the following statement: "WE WILL NOT TOLERATE any form of threatening or aggressive behavior toward our staff. Assaults against our staff might result in a felony conviction. All staff have the right to carry out their work without fearing for their safety."
Editor's note: A photo that previously ran alongside this report has been changed because it did not accurately reflect the content of the article.