The Commons
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A responding officer’s narrative from a Jan. 21 incident report.


Records show increase in Retreat assaults

Police reports, Workers’ Comp record confirm employees’ claims that violence is on the rise

This story was made possible by support from The Commons’ Investigative Fund, which subsidized the public records copying fees for three years’ worth of Brattleboro Police Department incident reports. To contribute to this fund to make more such stories possible, visit

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Randolph T. Holhut/Commons file photo

Peter Albert.

Originally published in The Commons issue #182 (Wednesday, December 12, 2012).

BRATTLEBORO—As contract negotiations between the Brattleboro Retreat and United Nurses and Allied Professionals Union Local 5086 have concluded, the question of how to care for the caregivers remains unanswered.

During informational pickets by union members in front of the Retreat over the past few weeks, staff members raised concerns about an increasing rate of violent incidents for direct-care staff at the 178-year-old private, non-profit mental health facility.

Workers’ Compensation numbers from the Vermont Department of Labor and incident reports from the Brattleboro Police Department, pointed toward an increase for 2012.

The Retreat accepted patients in August 2011 from Vermont State Hospital in Waterbury after Tropical Storm Irene flooded the facility.

Staff and community members have questioned whether state patients have been at the center of increased staff injuries. The data collected for this article did not absolutely dispute or confirm that theory.

According to Peter Albert, Senior Vice President for Government Relations and Managed Service Organization, patients’ “acuity” has increased over recent years.

Patients once arrived at the hospital with one diagnosis, like depression. Now, patients arrive with multiple diagnoses — like depression, a substance addiction, and physical health issues — that complicate and deepen their clinical needs.

By the numbers

According to numbers from the Labor Department’s Division of Workers’ Compensation (DWC), 2012 showed an increase in the number of injuries to staff by patients over 2010 and 2011.

For 2010 and 2011, DWC recorded 49 reports of employee injuries at the Retreat in 2010 and 58 injuries in 2011. This is an average of about four injuries a month over 12 months.

The DWC had data for 2012 through October, which totaled 48 reports, or an average of 4.8 reported injuries a month for 10 months.

Accident descriptions from the DWC ran the gamut from “repetitive motion while using a keyboard,” to slipping on ice, to injuries obtained while restraining patients.

Other entries listed more serious encounters like employees being punched in the head or in the eye, or workers suffering injuries to arms and wrists while blocking punches or kicks from patients.

Of the accident descriptions using language that suggested a violent altercation, 2012 showed the higher number.

The incident reports from the Brattleboro Police Department (BPD) tell a similar story.

The Commons requested documentation of all incidents involving assaults at the Retreat for 2010, 2011, and 2012 to date.

BPD reviewed 282 incidents, of which 57 incidents involved “physical contact between patients or patients and staff” were reported. Of the 57 incidents, 15 dealt with violence between patients.

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