Minnesota Security Hospital worker's life changed forever after patient attack

A worker hurt during an attack at a psychicatric hospital near Mankato is recounting her struggle to get by after the brutal beating.

“So this has really taken over my life,” explains Rachel Hagen. “It’s completely stripped me of my identity and everything who made me who I am. It’s taken everything from me.”

Rachel Hagen is trying desperately to adjust to her new normal after suffering a devastating brain injury on the job last December at the Minnesota Security Hospital in St. Peter.

“I’m working really hard to accept where I am at now and accept where I am at day-to-day,” she says.

A new normal that includes Post-It notes plastered all over her kitchen cabinets, reminding her of the simplest tasks like calling her mom and watering the plants. On top of that, there are other activities that many take for granted that she can’t do anymore, like driving due to unpredictable seizures and migraine headaches over the last seven months.

“One day, I can feel like I am getting better,” she says. “I’m going to be ok and I might do more than the previous day. But then the next day, I feel horrible.”

Rachel explained that she was working with high-risk, mentally ill patients inside the state security hospital when one of the women in crisis attacked her.

“The patient just started swinging, swinging, and swinging,” Rachel recalls. “So the patient punched me about 15 times and knocked me out.”

Rachel was beaten and badly bruised but very few on the outside could see the most serious injury was to her brain.

Kaija McMillen though could immediately relate. She too was a security counselor inside the hospital who was horrifically beaten by a patient four years ago. Today, she remains on disability, constantly worried about seizures.

Kaija tells us, “Same thing. PTSD, seizures, traumatic brain injury, anxiety -- all of it. Our medical charts are eerily similar.”

Rachel and Kaija joked they are sadly members of the same sorority: DHS workers hurt on the job. Now, they are focused on just trying to help each other.

Rachel says, “These emotions and these feelings that we experience are completely normal. And it’s ok to talk about them. It’s ok to experience them. It’s ok to feel. And you are not wrong for feeling them.”

The two women are hoping to remove any stigma surrounding complications from serious brain injuries. They also want to continue to put the spotlight on the sometimes dangerous conditions surrounding care for the troubled and mentally ill in Minnesota.

The Department of Human Services reports staff injuries from patient aggression at the security hospital has declined in recent years from 100 in 2015 to 53 last year.

Kaija and Rachel are skeptical of those stats based on what they described as anecdotal evidence. What’s amazing, they both would return to their jobs tomorrow if medically cleared. They just want some more resources in place to make sure another staffer doesn’t join them on extended disability.

“Definitely, there needs to be change at the hospital,” Rachel says. “It’s real easy for everybody to sit here and say that, but what would change look like?”

Statement from Minnesota DHS: 

Because of the potential for serious or life-altering injury, any patient assault on staff is a cause for great concern. These incidents deeply affect staff at all levels. Our hearts are always with our coworkers who are injured and we stand by them and support them as they recover.

As part of our ongoing commitment to maintaining and improving workplace safety, we critically review assaults on staff to see if changes to policies, practices or training are necessary. We also conduct clinical reviews of aggressive patients to determine if changes in treatment are warranted.