Nurse's attack in hospital spurs Valley Stream vigil

Nurses and their supporters gather at North Shore

Nurses and their supporters gather at North Shore LIJ Fanklin Hospital for a press conference and vigil for injured nurse Marie Sweeney. (Sept. 14, 2010) (Credit: Charles Eckert)

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Spurred by an attack that seriously injured one of their own, dozens of nurses, joined by politicians and union officials, gathered outside Franklin Hospital Medical Centerin Valley Stream Tuesday to draw attention to workplace violence committed against nurses.

The gathering came four days after a nurse was assaulted from behind by a patient who walked into the room where she was holding a group-therapy session in the psychiatric unit, according to hospital officials and Nassau police.

"Everybody who witnessed the incident was shaken," said a nurse at the vigil. "The whole hospital was shaken."

Nassau police arrested a patient, Donte Oakes, 23, of Springfield Gardens, and charged him with first-degree assault. Police said Oakes broke apart a chair and used one of its legs to beat the 53-year-old nurse in the head, face and neck. The assault occurred about 1:30 p.m. Friday, police said.

"It seemed to have stemmed from a disagreement from earlier that day," Det. Vincent Garcia said Tuesday.

Each year, about 500,000 nurses across the United States are assaulted while on duty, said Thomas Lowe, health and safety representative of the New York State Nurses Association.

The attack on the nurse at Franklin Hospital comes just weeks after a nurse at the Erie County Medical Center was attacked, said Lorraine Seidel, director of the association.

Earlier this year, Gov. David A. Paterson signed legislation increasing penalties for individuals who attack on-duty nurses. The law, which goes into effect Nov. 1, raises the penalty for assault on registered nurses to a class C or D felony, punishable by 2 to 15 years in prison.

The injured nurse, whom police did not name, was discharged Monday and will undergo surgery for an eye injury sustained in the attack, said Joseph Manopella, executive director of Franklin Hospital. Officials did not provide information on the severity.

"What happened to her was an attack, which she didn't know was coming," said Manopella, who attended Tuesday's vigil. "There was no way to de-escalate what happened at that moment."

Manopella said the motive for the attack is not known, and the hospital continues to investigate.

The nurse at Franklin Hospital has worked at the facility for more than 25 years, the last two years in the psychiatric unit, colleagues said Tuesday.

Elizabeth Erneta, a nurse at the hospital, said the injured woman was kind and helpful to everyone at the hospital. "Her patients come first, we come second, and she always comes last," Erneta said Tuesday.

Yasmine Beausejour said she spoke to the injured nurse and her colleagues' concern was what can be done to prevent a similar attack from happening to other nurses. "Her focus was prevention," Beausejour said Tuesday. "She's just that kind of a person."

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