Seattle Children’s Hospital nurses hold vigil to raise awareness on ‘combat zone’ workplace

Dec 13, 2023, 2:56 PM

(Photo from KIRO 7)...

(Photo from KIRO 7)

(Photo from KIRO 7)

Nurses with Seattle Children’s Hospital are holding a candlelight vigil to raise awareness of alleged attacks on nurses in what they describe as a “combat zone” in the hospital.

The candlelight vigil took place across from Laurelhurst Playfield, at 45th Street and 45th Avenue in Seattle, Tuesday at 6 p.m. It’s the day before nurses are scheduled to meet with the hospital’s management, the nurses’ union told KIRO 7.

Two nurses and several lawmakers are expected to speak at the event.

A spokesperson for the Washington State Nurses Association said that two nurses and the union are scheduled to meet with management on Wednesday afternoon to discuss the list of changes they would like to see to keep nurses and patients safe.

The expected meeting comes after a number of alleged attacks that have happened within the hospital’s Psychiatry and Medicine Behavioral Health Unit.


Seattle Children’s Hospital nurses told KIRO 7 that they have allegedly suffered injuries from patients due to a lack of support and resources from management.

Leaders with the Washington State Nurses Association shared a press release about the alleged incidents.

In a span of two weeks, Seattle police told KIRO 7 that they were called to the hospital’s unit twice.

On November 7, police said a 14-year-old boy was arrested for assaulting a medical staff member, destroying property, and armed himself with a metal pole in the Psychiatry and Behavioral Medicine Unit of the hospital. One staff member suffered minor injuries.

Staff told police the teenage boy had convinced another patient to steal an access badge from hospital staff, which allowed them to access prohibited areas of the building, police said. One staff member was put in a headlock, police added.

Another incident happened on November 17 where three to four children in the behavioral unit reportedly tore off ceiling tiles and threw them at staff members, said Seattle Police.

“I’m exhausted from constantly reacting to dangerous behaviors and trying to prevent serious harm,” a nurse on the unit, Henry Jones, said in the press release. “In our current state, I feel like I’m functioning more like a bouncer or a prison guard.”


Leaders with the Washington State Nurses Association said nurses had asked management to talk before Thanksgiving, however, they denied the request. Nurses and the union are now scheduled to meet with management Wednesday afternoon, a leader of the association told KIRO 7.

Nurses are asking for the following changes from management to address the short-term issue, according to the WSNA press release:

  • Three safety officers to work during the dayside shifts.
  • Three additional nurses work the overnight shifts.
  • Three additional nurses
  • A maximum nurse-to-patient ratio of 1:8.
  • Double pay during the crisis to encourage nurses to remain on staff.

According to the press release, 44 nurses signed a letter to Seattle Children’s management on November 17, urging for help on the unit.

“Staff work in a persistent state of fear as they come into each shift expecting violence and debilitating abuse,” the nurses wrote in the press release. “Patient care has been compromised to an extent that our milieu is no longer therapeutic, but rather dangerous and detrimental for all who enter the PBMU, staff and patients alike. The unfortunate reality of the unit is an exponentially increasing risk of a sentinel event if the PBMU is left to continue operating under its current conditions.”


KIRO 7 spoke with a couple of nurses within the unit on Tuesday to better understand the situation and to get their thoughts on the upcoming meeting with management.

“We need this meeting, and we need it to go well. And we need change to happen right now,” said Anna Singer, a nurse for Seattle Children’s Hospital Psychiatry and Medicine Behavioral Health Unit.

Charlie Elkins, another nurse within the unit, said, “True healing and change happens when we meet face to face and actually call the truth and call what we see.”

KIRO 7 asked both nurses about their experience within the unit.

“Escalation and the sheer volume of violence that we’re seeing and the level of violence that we’re seeing is what has changed.” Singer said, “Now people kind of expect some degree of harm to happen during their shift.”

“When someone’s trying to hit you and you have no one coming to help you, that’s where trauma comes from. And that’s what’s happening,” Singer described some of her experiences while working for the unit.

Singer showed KIRO 7 some of the scars on her arms, caused by scratches and bites from patients, she said.

Both nurses stressed that the children within the unit are not to blame, adding many of the children need additional support to help them manage their emotions caused by trauma. The root issue is due to systemic challenges and a lack of support from the hospital, they said.

“I see the desperation in some of these kids,” said Elkins. “When someone’s feeling desperate and unsafe, and trying to protect themselves, they will do anything.”

“I want to be very explicit with that. Our kids are close to death. One way or another,” Singer said.

Singer said there is a misconceived perception of the unit.

“Sometimes psych is seen as non-medical, or non-urgent, or kids with psychological issues aren’t sick — which isn’t true. No one would be in our unit if they weren’t an imminent threat to themselves or others,” she said.

The unit needs additional experienced nurses who understand how to navigate and help guide the children within the unit, both nurses told us.

“It’s really hard to build coping skills and distressed tolerance when you don’t have a home to go to. When you don’t have a bed,” said Singer.

Both nurses said they are hopeful that a positive resolution will come out of Wednesday’s expected meeting with management.

“We need things right now to keep people for as long as we can to get through this crisis,” said Singer.

“There’s so much change that still needs to happen,” said Elkins. “This is a step on a long road of steps.”


KIRO 7 reached out to Seattle Children’s Hospital and requested an in-person interview.

The hospital declined our request, but shared the following statement:

The safety, security and well-being of Seattle Children’s patients and workforce is our top priority. We continue to work hard on four key objectives to support our workforce and community: ensure staff and patient safety, provide excellent mental health care, maximize use of Psychiatry and Behavioral Medicine Unit (PBMU) space and advocate for resources outside of the hospital.

Seattle Children’s has also added supplemental staffing resources and increased both leader and security presence in areas of greatest need. This also includes support to hire travel pediatric mental health services staff and nursing staff. Addressing the youth mental health crisis continues to be the top priority of our state and federal advocacy efforts.

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Seattle Children’s Hospital nurses hold vigil to raise awareness on ‘combat zone’ workplace