Rochester NY July 25 2022 — The death of a security guard at Frisbie Memorial Hospital two years ago contributed to new legislation aimed at preventing attacks on health care workers in New Hampshire.
Republican Gov. Chris Sununu, along with Seacoast health officials, signed Senate bill 459 Friday outside the hospital, just steps from where security guard Rick Semo was assaulted in 2020.
The bill was welcomed by lawmakers as a “first step” that provides the framework for collecting data on alleged abuse to support the establishment of a workplace violence prevention program in healthcare settings.
Semo was 64 when he died in 2020 after suffering head trauma while on duty at Rochester Hospital.
On December 13, 2020, a man punched him in the face outside the entrance to the hospital’s emergency room. Semo was pronounced dead five days later. The blow, police said at the time, caused Semo to fall and hit his head on the pavement. Semo’s head hit hard enough to cause internal bleeding and a fractured skull, according to court documents filed by police.
Richard Semo died in 2020 at the age of 64 while working as a security guard at Frisbie Memorial Hospital in Rochester.
Attacker Tyler Thurston, 29, of New Durham, agreed in 2021 to plead guilty to one charge of involuntary manslaughter.
Semo lived in Farmington. He was a father, Army veteran and served as a reserve drill sergeant in 1st/304th Portsmouth Regiment.
Frisbie Memorial Hospital chief executive officer Tim Jones spoke on Friday about the tragedy.
“Rick Semo was attacked right here in this parking lot and died as a result of his injuries,” Jones said. “He was a member of the Frisbie family and served our staff and patients with compassion and empathy. His job was to keep them safe, but while protecting our campus, he became a victim. That is why this bill is so important.”
Jones said Semo’s tragic death was not a one-off incident of hospital violence. He and others in the field said that Sununu health workers dealt with abuse far too often.
“It happens every day,” Jones said. “The pandemic has led to an increase in violence against our healthcare workers. Our healthcare workers have found themselves in very difficult and often dangerous situations. Our own employees and healthcare workers across the state and country have at times been verbally and physically assaulted.”
Gov. Chris Sununu is surrounded by healthcare leaders and lawmakers outside Frisbie Memorial Hospital in Rochester on Friday, July 22, 2022. He signed legislation intended to mark the start of a program to prevent workplace violence in healthcare facilities.
TJ Lydon, a doctor at Wentworth-Douglass Hospital in Dover, said you can have a great team and an overall safe hospital, but violence can happen anywhere, anytime.
“One of our psychiatric social workers was assaulted in the emergency room yesterday,” Lydon said, adding that such incidents are nothing new. “There are a lot of different people coming into the emergency room with different problems. Sometimes these people get incredibly violent and attack employees. It happens more often than you think.”
Stephen Ahnen, president of the New Hampshire Hospital Association, said the abuse is not helping with the medical field’s staffing shortage.
“It should not be part of a nurse’s job to come in and be harassed, threatened, hit or kicked. Unfortunately, this is becoming more and more common,” said Ahnen.
Jones said it is the first step in helping healthcare leaders protect their employees.
“The signing of this bill at Frisbie Hospital means a lot to us because one of us died as a result of violence against healthcare workers,” Jones said. “Now our employees and all healthcare workers are better protected than ever, which in turn enables them to do their jobs and serve patients and their families.”
Sununu said Friday there was “no question” that violence against healthcare workers has long been an issue. The frequency has increased, partly due to the coronavirus pandemic and staff shortages, he said.
“The legislation will provide oversight to bring ideas to the table,” Sununu said. He added it’s “not the end of everything, but a great first step. We have to do more.”
State Senator Tom Sherman, D-Rye, a physician and a supporter of Sununu in the 2022 gubernatorial election, said the bill means a lot to him.
He said he’s seen violence firsthand throughout his career, and it’s gotten worse every year.
“All doctors and nurses are trained in this every year, and yet despite that training, it gets worse every year,” Sherman said. “This creates a mechanism to report and collect data on these incidents. In order to ask ourselves how to reduce violence, we need data to know what is happening, where and how often.”