Weather Forecast


MeritCare, Innovis step in to make sure fights don't carry over to hospitals

A fight breaks out, and both parties suffer injuries.

Family members bring them to a nearby hospital, and those on opposite sides of the conflict find themselves sitting together in the same waiting area.

"That's a recipe for disaster," Fargo Police Sgt. Jeff Skuza said of the hypothetical situation.

However, local hospitals and law enforcement have precautionary measures in place to ensure that such a scenario doesn't happen.

Police responding to domestic disturbances or fights will often try to take people involved to different hospitals to avoid confrontations, Skuza said.

"Their whole families can show up," he said, adding the fight could start all over again in a waiting room.

Both Innovis Health and MeritCare Hospital - the only hospitals in Fargo-Moorhead - can separate people who have been involved in a conflict and work to stay in close contact with police to monitor the situation, hospital officials said.

But it's not just the people in the waiting rooms who pose a threat; sometimes it's the patients themselves.

"We never know what anyone's gonna have or be on or do, so it's pretty much people with kind of the right words at the right time," said Innovis spokeswoman Kris Olson, referring to tactics staff use to try to calm individuals down.

Hospital staff members are trained to try to stop a potential problem before it escalates by watching for nonverbal signs such as someone clenching their jaws, pacing and or making fists, said Tim Vangerud, safety and security manager at MeritCare.

"As busy as we are, I would not be far-fetched from saying sometime during every day we encounter someone that has a psychological issue or someone that's worked up for this or that," Vangerud said.

MeritCare handles more than 48,000 visits to the ER each year, spokeswoman Carrie Haug said.

If staff members see a problem brewing, they will try to calm the upset individual. If that doesn't work, security staff - on duty 24/7 in the ER - might be called.

"Just the physical appearance of an officer will de-escalate someone from thinking about doing something," Vangerud said.

Security personnel also carry Tasers, which have been drawn as many as 50 times in the past three years, but have never been discharged, Vangerud said.

Despite the precautions, hospital staff members are assaulted from time to time, a crime that carries a felony-level charge.

Neither MeritCare nor Innovis reported a staff member ever sustaining a serious injury.

There are many reasons for upset patients or waiting parties, ranging from holiday stress to long waiting times.

"At any point from the time they get here till the time they're discharged, you can expect an aggressive behavior out of someone," Vangerud said.