A doctor who was repeatedly stabbed by a patient at Pennsylvania Hospital this year sued the facility and its parent organization Wednesday, accusing both of failing to take steps that could have prevented the attack and adopting an “abject disregard” for the safety of employees.
The complaint, which was filed in Philadelphia Common Pleas Court and names the hospital and Penn Medicine among its defendants, offers a harrowing account of the Feb. 23 assault by a psychiatric patient, who repeatedly stabbed his victim in the head and face using a knife taken from a lunch tray.
It followed at least one other recent incident of patient-on-doctor violence at the Center City hospital and is part of what the doctor’s lawyers said is an alarming nationwide trend that hospital administrators have failed to adequately acknowledge or address.
“Doctors make sacrifices every day for the health and well-being of their patients. They should not have to sacrifice their own safety to perform their job,” said one of her lawyers, Brett J. Kaminsky of the firm Friedman Schuman, PC. “This attack was no isolated incident, as previously stated by the hospital. It is a well-known problem in the medical field that is unreported due to a culture of silence.”
The doctor, a second-year psychiatry resident, is still recovering from her physical and psychological injuries and filed her lawsuit under the pseudonym “Dr. A” out of concern for what her attorneys described as a “fear of repercussion and … public judgment given the culture of concealment among medical providers.”
The accused assailant, Rakeem Anderson of Philadelphia, had been admitted to the hospital’s neurology floor. When the doctor was dispatched Feb. 23 to inform Anderson, 35, that he wasn’t being discharged, he allegedly lunged at her and an accompanying medical student.
According to the suit, the doctor managed to push the student out of the room before Anderson grabbed her by the hair, yanked her backward, punched her, and began slamming her head on the floor and stabbing her in the face, neck, and arms with the dinner knife and a pen — while 10 to 15 of her colleagues looked on from a nursing station just outside the door.
While they locked themselves in a nearby room, the suit said, the doctor was left alone in the hallway, screaming for help until she managed to stumble away from Anderson and a nurse on the floor called 911.
The doctor’s lawyers said no one on staff alerted hospital security or seemed to know how to respond to a violent incident. No guards were stationed on the floor and there were no panic buttons in or just outside Anderson’s room.
The lawsuit aims most of its criticism at the hospital for its actions leading up to and after the attack.
Within hours, administrators issued a statement saying, “there was no danger at any time to other patients and staff at the hospital,” and asserting that “hospital operations continue as usual.”
But it took days for anyone to reach out to the doctor, her lawyers said.
Since then, other residents and hospital employees have voiced concern over their safety, but the suit contends that the hospital has taken no steps to improve security.
A Penn Medicine spokesperson declined to comment Wednesday on the specific allegations in the suit but said in a statement that “ensuring the safety of our patients and staff in all settings is a top priority” and that the hospital system continues to “continuously evaluate” its security protocols.
The health-care industry has increasingly had to grapple with what experts call a “national epidemic” of patient-on-provider attacks.
Health-care workers are nine times more likely to be victims of intentional workplace violence than those in other sectors, according to federal data. And in 2017, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics said that of the 180,000 intentionally caused workplace injuries that required a day or more of recuperation, 71% of them were reported by doctors, nurses, or other health-care employees.
Aja Harper, a registered nurse at Pennsylvania Hospital, lodged similar claims in a lawsuit less than a year ago.
She said she was attacked in 2018 by a patient who lunged at her, pinned her down, ripped out her hair extensions, and tried to choke her. Harper’s suit alleged the hospital failed to ensure the man, who was known to be violent and had been restrained during previous treatment, was strapped to his bed before she was sent into his room.
Harper’s lawsuit was withdrawn a month after it was filed. Her attorney, Riley H. Ross III, declined to say Wednesday whether she had reached a settlement with the hospital.
Since the latest incident, Anderson has been incarcerated with bail set at $250,000 while he awaits trial on assault charges. The doctor he attacked continues to suffer from physical trauma, PTSD, flashbacks, and nightmares, her lawyers said.
Her suit — which also names the trustees of the University of Pennsylvania, the hospital’s security company, and Anderson as defendants — seeks damages for negligence, civil assault and battery, and intentional infliction of emotional distress.