Officer Nick Purkey has been with the Athens Police Department for two years. He says he had just two hours left in his 12-hour shift on Saturday when he helped respond to a call dealing with a disorderly patient at Starr Regional Medical Center in Athens, TN. The patient was being held at the hospital waiting to be transferred to a mental health facility.

That's when he was attacked.

“I didn't know what to expect,” Purkey said. “That's probably the most scariest part of our job is not knowing.”

It was 6:30 AM when Officer Purkey arrived at the emergency room. He says the male patient was screaming and cursing at the staff.

“We tried to take him into custody an at that point he began to resist,” he said.  

That's when things escalated.

“He shoved me into a wall,” Purkey explained. “He pushed me from one room to another room at which my knee popped. I had to roll out of the altercation and another officer had to proceed dealing with him trying to get him into custody.”

Officer Purkey missed four days of work recovering. He says the patient involved was listed under a Certificate of Need, which means a doctor ordered the patient to be held and examined because they are a danger to themselves or others.

“There could be something put in place to better secure these people to help them and get them help when they need it.”

Chief Clifton Couch agrees. He says his team is called to the hospital routinely. This is the second time within a month, one of his officers has been hurt doing so.

“There's a mental health crisis in our country and there's not enough resources to deal with so what happens it the local ER and the local police department become the…place for these folks to stay and we're not set up for it and neither are they,” Chief Couch said.

Chief Couch says their goal is to cause less harm. He says they try to resolve hostile situations with other tactics, but it becomes challenging when the public and in this case the patient's safety is at risk.

“There have been some steps made. The legislature this year passed some laws that are going to make it easier to get these folks transported to get the help they need,” he said. “But it's a big task. It's going to take a lot of work and a lot of money to really get somewhere where things like this don't happen.”

Chief Couch says he plans to sit down with the administration team at Starr Region all Medical Center to discuss ways to strengthen their partnership and reduce the risk for the police officers and hospital staff.