Pregnant worker stabbed by patient at Maine psychiatric hospital files lawsuit

Woman alleges that the state failed to protect her


May 19--A mental health worker at Riverview Psychiatric Center in Augusta who was pregnant when she was stabbed repeatedly in the hand and face by a patient last year has filed a federal lawsuit, alleging the state failed to protect her.

Jamie Hill-Spotswood, had told Roland Pushard, the assistant director of nursing at Riverview, less than a week before the March 16, 2013, attack that she was 18 weeks pregnant and that she felt unsafe because there was no security on the hospital floor where she worked, she said in the suit filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Bangor.

Hill-Spotswood said in the suit, filed on her behalf by her attorney Michael Waxman against Department of Health and Human Services Director Mary Mayhew, that the floor was populated by patients known to be "very, very violent" and known to have threatened or attacked workers and patients on numerous occasions.

She also contends that the state did nothing after she told the Riverview staff that she felt unsafe and that Riverview never disclosed to her that her now-convicted attacker, Mark Murphy, had a "prolific history of violence," Waxman wrote in a six-page complaint.

"So, predictably, when Mark Murphy, a known violent individual, decided to become violent yet again, DHHS provided the lamb for the slaughter, and enabled -- by its inexcusable failure to protect employees from foreseeable and grave danger -- Mr. Murphy to stab her repeatedly in the hand and face," Waxman wrote in the lawsuit.

Witnesses at Murphy's trial in Kennebec County Superior Court said that he first apologized to Hill-Spotswood and then attacked her by punching her and stabbing her with a pen.

Witnesses at the trial said that a day before the attack, Murphy was angry because the staff had canceled his Saturday visit to his parents' home in Kittery.

Hill-Spotswood testified as a witness at the trial in which a judge found in January that anger, not mental illness, drove him to attack.

"I curled in a fetal position and stuck my hands on top of my head, covering my face," Hill-Spotswood testified from the witness stand.

Another staff member and another patient stepped in to pull Murphy off and rescue her, witnesses said.

Justice Donald Marden convicted Murphy, 48, after a single-day trial before him rather than a jury of charges of elevated aggravated assault and aggravated assault.

Murphy, 48, faces up to 30 years in prison on the more serious of the two charges, a Class A felony. His sentencing date has not been set.

Hill-Spotswood was treated after the attack at MaineGeneral Medical Center for injuries to her arms, face and hands and had to have surgery to remove the tip of a pen from her hand.

As a result, she was left "disfigured and emotionally damaged," Waxman said in the lawsuit, which seeks an unspecified amount of money to compensate her for her injuries, pay attorneys fees and further award deemed appropriate by the court

"This attack by Mr. Murphy could easily have been prevented had DHHS taken reasonable security measures to prevent foreseeable, grave harm to be visited upon its employees, like Ms. Hill-Spotswood," Waxman wrote.

In a phone interview Monday afternoon, Waxman said the attack did not affect Hill-Spotswood's pregnancy and that she has since given birth to a healthy baby.

Hill-Spotswood has not returned to work since the attack but hopes that a doctor will soon give her medical clearance to work again, Waxman said.

"She has very, very bad post-traumatic stress syndrome," he said.

Sarah Grant, a spokeswoman for the Department of Health and Human Services, said it's the department's policy not to comment on pending litigation.

The attack on Hill-Spotswood touched off heightened security concerns at Riverview, prompting the hospital to bring in state and county corrections officers to monitor specific patients. However, officers were stripped of stun guns and handcuffs in May after federal regulators objected to the new measures, and the county officers were gone by the end of August. The attack also triggered a federal audit of the hospital, which resulted in the loss of its eligibility for $20 million in federal money -- about half of the hospital's budget.

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