State worker says new law would make workplace safer



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Posted on February 21, 2014 at 6:33 PM

Updated Friday, Feb 21 at 7:59 PM

OLYMPIA -- Larry Thompson has enjoyed working in the mental-health industry for 40 years.

"I was told early I had a knack for it," said Thompson, a psychology associate at Western State Hospital.

But after what happened last fall, he's afraid to return to work. Thompson said a patient attacked him in October. He testified Friday on a bill to toughen up penalties for patients who assault employees.

Thompson has not been able to return to work because of headaches and memory loss.

A doctor who was attacked in November, Robert Rogan, was found dead in a Lacey motel room this week.

The Thurston County coroner said pending test results will determine if the attack played any role in the 71-year-old's death.

Thompson said he spoke with the doctor last week who said Rogan was complaining about the injuries he suffered in the attack.

Under current state law, whenever a patient attacks a doctor or nurse, he or she can face felony charges. The same attack on a non-medical staffer, like Thompson, can only be considered a felony if a weapon is involved or bones are broken.

House Bill 6022 would make attacks on any staffers felonies.

"Please level the playing field," Thompson testified to House committee members.

Thompson said changing the law will change the culture inside the hospital. Patients know they will not face serious charges if they hit a non-medical staffer, he added.

"They tell that, they know that nothing will happen," said Thompson.

Ron Adler, the CEO of Western State Hospital, said he does not think the doctor's death has any connection to the November attack.

While Adler said the hospital is a violent workplace, he said the number of incidents have dropped over the last seven years.