NORTH PROVIDENCE, R..I. (WPRI) — The man who police say attacked a nurse at Rhode Island Hospital was already facing a charge for a different attack at a medical center the year before, Target 12 has learned.
George Bower, 37, formerly of Johnston, is facing two felony counts — one for assault and one for assault on a health care worker — after police said on Sept. 8 he became enraged over being told he could not use a phone at the hospital.
At 7:40 a.m. that day, nurse Scott Amaral “was attempting to address Mr. Bower’s concerns about his phone privileges,” when Bower “violently assaulted” Amaral, according to a Providence police report. The attack was caught on hospital surveillance video.
Amaral has been hospitalized since the incident. A spokesperson for Lifespan — the parent company of Rhode Island Hospital — declined to give his condition, citing patient confidentiality.
Court and police records obtained by Target 12 show the prior incident occurred on Nov. 1, 2022, when Bower was a “long-term psychiatric patient” at Fatima Hospital in North Providence and he allegedly approached another patient and struck him.
“[The victim] stated he was sucker punched for a reason not known to him while he was inside the unit,” according to a North Providence incident report.
The officer initially told the victim that Bower could not be charged because his “mental status” was unknown. But after reviewing video of the incident the following day, police charged Bower with one misdemeanor count of simple assault.
Once in a holding cell at the North Providence police department, officers had to call for an ambulance because he was in an “altered mental status,” and was transported to Roger Williams Hospital.
A spokesperson for CharterCare, which owns and operates Fatima Hospital, did not immediately return an email for comment on the incident last year.
The victim in the Fatima case declined to talk about what happened when reached by phone, saying he is considering legal action against the hospital.
During a taping Friday of WPRI 12’s Newsmakers, Lifespan President and CEO John Fernandez would not provide details on Amaral’s condition, but called the situation “horrible.”
“It’s unfortunately not the only attack on health care workers. It’s happening at other hospitals, it’s happened at our hospital before then and since,” Fernandez said. “This was obviously an extreme event. It’s so sad that we have one of our colleagues in the hospital.”
In the wake of the attack on Amaral, Fernandez said Lifespan leaders have examined their security protocols and are conducting more training. He also acknowledged that staffing and long wait times at hospitals can exacerbate the problem.
“I won’t talk about this particular case but I would say there are a lot of patients that stay in our hospital a long time and they could be in another facility or at home,” Fernandez said. “We have a very hard time getting patients out.”
“When I got there there was a patient that had been there 1,000 days,” he added. “That’s like three years.”
Joseph Wendelken, a spokesperson for the R.I. Dept. of Health said the state does not track incident of violence in hospitals.
“We do not collect data on patient acts of violence against staff,” Wendelken said in an email. “We collect information about instances of staff aggression against patients because those become regulatory issues (for the facility and the licensee).”
“When the aggression is directed from a patient to a staff member, it is more of a law enforcement matter,” he added.
It is unclear if the incident at Fatima was shared with staff at Rhode Island Hospital. Lifespan spokesperson Kathleen Hart said in an email they are unable to disclose information in this case citing a federal law designed to protect sensitive patient information known as HIPAA.
“Lifespan is able to receive and share medical records with other members of the patients’ care team outside Lifespan either through EPIC (if the provider uses the same electronic health record/EHR platform), or via CurrentCare (if the provider is RI-based and does not use EPIC),” Hart wrote.
The charge of assault on a health care worker comes with a maximum penalty of three years in prison, while felony assault comes with a potential 20 years behind bars.
Bower was scheduled for a status conference on Monday, but did not appear in court. He has been held without bail since his arrest following the Rhode Island Hospital incident, and was ordered to undergo a competency evaluation. Another status conference has been scheduled for November.
A previous mental health evaluation for the simple assault case out of North Providence found Bower competent to stand trial.
Bower’s attorney, a public defender assigned by the court, did not return a call for comment.
A spokesperson for the United Nurses and Allied Professionals union declined to comment on the incidents Monday.