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Prosecutor: NH man stabbed Mass. hospital nurse in neck as she tried to adjust his oxygen tube

GARDNER, Mass. — A New Hampshire man has been ordered held on high bail after he allegedly stabbed a nurse at a hospital in Massachusetts on Monday night.

David Nicholas, 76, of Greenville, was arraigned Tuesday in Gardner District Court via video from his hospital bed on charges of assault and battery with a deadly weapon and attempt to commit a crime in connection with a violent attack at Heywood Hospital in Gardner, according to the Gardner Police Department.

Officers responding to a report of a violent assault at the hospital at 242 Green St. around 8 p.m. found a member of the nursing staff suffering from a laceration, police said.

The victim, Sharon Siew, was taken to UMass Memorial Medical Center in Worcester. She is expected to be OK.

An investigation revealed that Nicholas was a patient at the hospital and receiving care when he stabbed Siew in the neck as she tried to adjust his nasal oxygen tube, a prosecutor said during the court hearing.

“She immediately screamed for help,” the prosecutor said of the nurse. “The laceration, which was photographed, was approximately three inches long along her Carotid artery.”

Fortunately, the nurse’s Carotid artery wasn’t punctured in the attack, the prosecutor added. Officers subsequently found Nicholas in possession of a pocket knife.

A judge ordered Nicholas held on $100,000 cash bail and instructed him to stay away from the victim.

Nicholas’ lawyer argued against the bail, stating that his client is in hospice care with about six months left to live.

“It is appropriate for him to be in his home where he can receive proper medical care and treatment,” the lawyer said.

The prosecution said Nicholas has a lengthy criminal history, including a five-year prison sentence that he served for armed robbery in Worcester County in the 1980s.

The attack did not surprise Karen Coughlin, RN, a psychiatric nurse for 34 years and chair of the Workplace Violence Task Force at the Massachusetts Nurses Association.

MNA is the largest union in the state representing nurses. Its membership includes nurses at Heywood Hospital.

“We are seeing an increase in workplace violence across the spectrum,” Coughlin said. “Nurses are more likely to be assaulted — seven times more likely to be assaulted — than police officers.”

Coughlin said an MNA survey of non-union nurses revealed that things have gotten worse in the last few years.

“We have found that during the pandemic, there has been an uptick in the reports from nurses across Massachusetts about workplace violence,” she said

It’s one of the factors — along with staffing shortages — that is likely contributing to an exodus from the profession.

“Our newer nurses are leaving the profession within two to five years of beginning their careers,” Coughlin said. “Many of our nurses who have been there a while are contemplating leaving the bedside earlier.”

The Massachusetts Nurses Association currently has legislation pending at the State House that’s aimed at reducing violence against healthcare workers and upping penalties against suspects charged with attacks on workers.

In a statement, a spokesperson for the MNA said, “This bill would require healthcare employers to perform an annual safety risk assessment and, based on those findings, develop and implement programs to minimize the danger of workplace violence to employees and patients. It would also provide time off for healthcare workers assaulted on the job to address legal issues and require semi-annual reporting of assaults on healthcare employees.”

A second bill would “increase the penalties for assaulting emergency medical technicians, ambulance operators, ambulance attendants and other healthcare providers, including nurses, and make it a felony punishable by up to five years in state prison,” according to the spokesperson.

Nicholas is due back in court in July.

An investigation is ongoing.

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

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