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'I've never seen what we are seeing today': Methodist leaders say nurses are contending with harassment, death threats

While most families of patients behave civilly, others let their frustration turn into hostility.

SAN ANTONIO — Local nurses are being threatened with guns and knives, and some are even receiving death threats, as they face an overwhelming situation in San Antonio's emergency rooms. Methodist Healthcare System is reporting an increase in the disturbing trend of hostile behavior.

Methodist staff say they try to deescalate the situation, but sometimes that's not enough, and they'll find themselves calling security or even police. Because of the increase in violence, officials said they are beefing up security and even working with SAPD. 

Jane McCurley, chief nurse executive for Methodist Healthcare System, said healthcare workers are tired and overworked. 

“Now, we go in somewhat slumped, somewhat tired," she said. "I felt like I was walking in a warzone among the walking wounded. I have been through the riots in the '80s, the floods, the fires, the hurricanes. I have been through it all. I have evacuated hospitals throughout my career. I have never seen what we are seeing today." 

McCurley said while the majority of patients and their families are nice, a disturbing trend is escalating. 

“People are angry, and they're frustrated, "she said. We are seeing families fighting in lobbies." 

She said Methodist facilities are seeing abusive behavior toward healthcare workers. Some have received death threats.   

“When our staff experiences cursing, screaming physical abuse, 'I am going to get my gun,' (have) a knife pulled on them—it is terrifying,” she said. 

She said there are a few reasons for the madness. 

"Masks and visitation and wait times,” she said. "The ERs are very crowded. When you ask them to lift their mask above their nose, because that is the proper way to wear it, they become angry." 

She said nurses are stretched thin and, while the number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients dropped for the first time in nearly a month on Thursday, they believe hospitalizations have not yet hit their peak for this current wave. 

“For those that are angry and frustrated, please don't take it out on the team," she said. “Take it out on somebody else. Not on the people trying to save your loved one's life." 

McCurley said nurses are handling three or four patients in the ICU at a time. Local leaders have called on more help to come to our area. Officials said we should be getting more than 300 additional healthcare workers from out of state. 

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