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Rules to prevent assaults at hospitals start today

Thanks to Bruce Alan Young, hospitals throughout Florida have some new rules to follow this morning.

Specifically, they must make their surgical recovery rooms more secure; their risk managers must add new tasks to their job descriptions; and their personnel departments have more authority to release information about former employees.

Young's string of sexual attacks on Citrus Memorial Hospital patients prompted the Florida Legislature to pass the measure. Indeed, another Young-inspired bill, this one concerning licensure of people with histories of sexual impropriety, will take effect Oct. 1.

Citrus County's local delegation, primarily Rep. Helen Spivey and Sen. Karen Johnson, helped push both bills to victory in Tallahassee.

Young, 46, was a nurse in Citrus Memorial's surgical recovery room. He pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting seven women who were sedated and under his care between 1991 and October 1994. Dozens more women have made similar allegations.

Citrus County's two main hospitals, Citrus Memorial and Seven Rivers Community, say they already are in compliance with the new law. Here's a recap of what the legislation says:

Except in emergency situations, hospitals now must have at least two staffers present when attending a patient in the recovery room. The provision is waived if the facility can ensure live visual observation of those patients, electronic observation, or "any other reasonable measure taken to ensure patient protection and privacy."

In Citrus Memorial, Young was allowed one-on-one access to his victims. Shortly after police arrested Young on Oct. 3, the hospital made sure that at least two people were present with all recovery room patients.

Also, the hospital today will begin operating security cameras in the recovery room. A worker from the operating room will monitor the screens.

"That will be an added security measure," hospital spokeswoman Megan Carella said.

At Seven Rivers, spokeswoman Dorothy Linton said hospital workers can observe patients in the recovery room at all times. At least two people are on duty during regular hours; for late-night or early-morning surgeries, patients recover in the intensive care unit, which never has fewer than two staffers on duty.

Spivey initially insisted that the two-worker provision apply across the board. The Florida Hospital Association lobbied for the more diverse measure, a compromise that Spivey and other legislators accepted.

Whenever a hospital staffer is accused of sexually abusing a patient, the hospital risk managers now must notify the family or guardian of the victim. Also, the risk manager must investigate such allegations, provided the misconduct occurred at the facility or on its grounds, and report those allegations to the hospital's administrator.

When a fellow nurse found Young raping a 15-year-old patient Oct. 3, the girl's mother was not immediately notified. Also, when another patient complained about Young's sexual misconduct in August, it was director of nursing Laura Dixon, not the risk manager, who conducted the investigation.

Citrus Memorial and Seven Rivers already have incorporated those requirements into their policy manuals.

Anyone who witnesses _ or possesses knowledge of _ a sexual attack that becomes the basis of an allegation must notify the police, risk manager and administrator.

The nurse who discovered Young attacking the girl, and the people who later learned about the attack, did not immediately notify authorities. In fact, three hours passed before Dixon eventually called 911.

Anyone who falsely accuses a hospital worker of sexual misconduct, with malice or intent to harm, is guilty of a second-degree misdemeanor, punishable by up to 60 days in jail and / or a $500 fine.

Finally, the law now says that hospitals acting in good faith "may not be held liable" for releasing accurate records and information about former employees when prospective employers ask. A court order, or the employee's permission, still is required.

"We do plan to expand the information that's allowed to be released consistent with the legislation," Linton said.

"That was something that we really wanted to push for, and we were real glad to see that passed," Carella said.

Shortly after Young's arrest, Citrus Memorial asked that the Florida Hospital Association convene a task force to study such issues. The Employee Background Clearance Task Force supported this legislation, compiled a soon-to-be released resource document to help hospitals protect themselves and their patients, put together a pamphlet stressing the need for extensive employee background checks, and planned an educational program for hospital association members.