The Minnesota Security Hospital, the state’s largest psychiatric facility, has agreed to pay one of the biggest fines ever assessed against a state agency for failing to protect workers from violence.

The state-operated hospital in St. Peter, which saw a surge in violent assaults by patients last year, has agreed to pay $20,000 to settle charges by Minnesota OSHA that workers were repeatedly exposed to the risk of serious injury or even death. The fines were for 10 separate violations of workplace safety rules stretching from 2014 to late 2015.

The settlement, signed last week, also requires the state to spend $35,980 over the next year to improve safety training or to purchase safety equipment at the hospital, which currently has about 360 patients. The improvements must be in addition to what the hospital would normally spend on safety measures, according to the agreement.

The fines come as the Minnesota Department of Human Services struggles to contain assaults against staff at the hospital. A $90 million proposal by Gov. Mark Dayton to increase safety at the St. Peter facility failed to pass the state Legislature earlier this spring, leaving the hospital understaffed compared to mental hospitals in other states, a state review found.

Even so, the hospital’s longer-term effort to curb assaults is beginning to yield results. In recent years, the hospital has intensified staff training on de-escalation techniques and calming strategies, created a new admissions area to protect incoming patients from more violent ones, installed more security cameras and increased staff rounds in high-acuity areas, among other measures.

“The citations, and the magnitude of the fines, were an incentive for the state to work with front-line staff to reduce violence,” said Jennifer Munt, a spokeswoman for AFSCME Council 5, which represents 385 workers at the hospital.

Through August, staff members have reported 32 injuries related to aggressive patient behavior, down from 100 the previous year and 71 in 2014, state officials said. Overall, workplace injuries have totaled 52 through August, down from 142 in all of 2015.

“With guidance and support from staff, labor and other partners, we have made tremendous strides in workplace safety at the Minnesota Security Hospital,” said Carol Olson, the hospital’s executive director. “There is much more to do, however, and we are committed to making continuous improvements together.”

In May 2014, the hospital was found responsible for the brutal killing of a patient. Michal F. Douglas, 41, was found bloodied and unconscious in his room after another patient had stomped on his head repeatedly. State investigators later determined the murder was the result of inadequate supervision and a lack of engagement by hospital staff. Because of the incident, the state extended the conditional status of the hospital’s license another two years, until December 2016.

In a separate assault last year, a security counselor at the hospital suffered a traumatic brain injury after a teenage patient grabbed her by the hair and slammed her against a brick wall, causing her to lose consciousness. The security counselor, Kaija McMillen, continues to have seizures from the assault and has been unable to return to work, union officials said.

 

Twitter: @chrisserres