ER nurse attacked on the job: ‘We’re just human punching bags’

PLYMOUTH, Mass. — An emergency room nurse attacked by a patient in police custody Monday is speaking out to raise awareness about the dangers of the job and to seek change.

Jesse Telford, a nurse at Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital-Plymouth, told Boston 25 News other hospital staff had reported a patient, who had been escorted in by a Kingston police officer for treatment of a prior hand injury, was swearing, threatening people and creating a loud disturbance in the ER.

As charge nurse, Telford said, he told the patient to quiet down but finally asked the police officer to remove him, after the patient stood up and continued to be loud and aggressive.

That patient, Michael Carlson, 27, began to attack Telford and the officer, a police report states.

“He seemed like a rabid dog,” Telford said. “He was intent on causing chaos and hurting people as much as he could.”

Carlson swung a chair at both men and threw punches at them before spitting at Telford twice and biting him in the back, breaking the skin and drawing blood, Telford said.

“The police officer looked like he was in some trouble,” Telford said. “And I started to get really scared that this person was going to overtake this police officer and get his gun away from him.”

Hospital security and arriving Plymouth police officers helped subdue and remove Carlson, who was transported back to jail.

Carlson would later be arraigned on charges of assault and battery, two counts of assault and battery with a dangerous weapon, assault and battery on ambulance personnel and assault and battery on a police officer, among other charges.

Carlson had already been in custody during the attack because of an alleged violation of the terms of his probation. He is accused of cutting off a GPS monitor before leading local and state police on a chase through the woods Sunday following a family incident at home hours before.

Police tell Boston 25 News Carlson has a history of violent convictions and he has several open cases within the last year.

A Plymouth Superior Court grand jury indicted Carlson on rape, attempted murder and assault and battery on a family member, among other charges.

While Telford is frustrated Carlson has been repeatedly released from jail on bail and granted house arrest, he is focused on making his workplace safer for himself and his colleagues.

On Aug. 31, Telford was the victim of another attack, he said. A patient also in police custody and believed to be high on drugs became combative in the emergency room. Telford tried to help subdue the patient and tore a muscle in his forearm. He spent four weeks out of work and was still recovering when Carlson came in Monday, he said.

“We are just getting assaulted constantly to the point where so much of it doesn’t even get reported, because it’s happening so much right now,” Telford said. “We’re just human punching bags.”

While Telford says treating combative patients has always been part of an ER nurse’s job, he believes violent incidents have been increasing lately.

Telford believes the coronavirus pandemic and a resulting slow-down in mental health and addiction services have led to an increase in patients who are struggling.

“People are hurting. They’re out of work. Life is just stressful right now,” Telford said. “And we’re just seeing a huge influx in these patients to where we’re just overrun with them.”

Telford wants to see changes in public health policy to make the job safer. To start, he wants additional security, more than one police officer escorting a prisoner to the hospital and more information about a violent patient before they arrive and it is too late.

“I’m sore, and I’m sad, and I’m worried about the future of the way things are going,” Telford said.

Both Telford and the officer were treated for their injuries at the hospital. The officer reported hamstring, wrist and facial injuries.

Telford said he will have maxed out his earned time-off while recovering from his attacks, and once workers' compensation kicks in, he’ll only be earning 60 percent of his pay.

“Not only is it becoming scary to go to work, but you start to worry about not only physically if you’re going to be able to take care of your family and be there for your family, but also financially, if you’re going to be able to pay your bills,” Telford said.

Carlson represented himself at his arraignment Tuesday. The judge ordered him held for a competency hearing and revoked his bail on his previous cases before setting bail for the current case at $150,000.

“Our paramount concern is the health and safety of every patient and every employee who enters our hospital. BID Plymouth has taken a number of steps to create a safe and healing environment including updating our security policies and partnering with the Plymouth Police to provide a police officer in our emergency room for the evening and overnight shifts. We have also implemented a streamlined process for reporting and evaluating workplace violence events, and developing action plans, as necessary, to prevent future workplace violence. In addition, we have created processes for staff to identify and manage patients that may be at risk for violent behavior and modified behavioral health patient care areas to enhance safety. BID Plymouth leadership is committed to establishing best practices for a safe workplace and have resources available to support staff who are victims or witnesses of workplace violence.”

—  Teresa Herbert, Spokesperson for BID Plymouth

This is a developing story. Check back for updates as more information becomes available.

Download the FREE Boston 25 News app for breaking news alerts.

Follow Boston 25 News on Facebook and Twitter. | Watch Boston 25 News NOW