Nurses from Delaware County Memorial Hospital said conditions at the Upper Darby Township hospital have declined since a new owner, Prospect Medical Holdings Inc., took over last year.

"It's a totally different environment," said longtime nurse Tammy Christiansen, who spoke at a rally Wednesday on the front steps of the Delaware County Courthouse in Media by the nurses' union, the Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses and Allied Professionals. "The morale isn't what it used to be."

Inside the courthouse, lawyers argued over whether Prospect, a California company that specializes in buying hospitals in poor financial condition, had reneged on terms of its deal to buy the four-hospital Crozer-Keystone Health System.

The nurses said a colleague was attacked in May as she helped a patient off the toilet. The patient, they said, grabbed that nurse's hair, threw her down, and slammed her head against the floor, causing a concussion. She has just returned to work.

"In today's society, there is more of a threat than there used to be," said Angela Neopolitano, who heads the union at the hospital. There is minimal security, she said, with patients' visitors wandering the halls at 2 a.m., and there are more patients coming with mental-health and drug problems than in the past.

In the case of their colleague who was beaten, the nurses said, hospital managers had not assigned someone trained in handling mental-health issues to monitor the patient on a one-to-one basis.

In a statement, Prospect said: "The safety and security of employees, visitors, and patients is a priority at Crozer-Keystone Health System.

"In the last few years, we have made many proactive changes and put into place many processes to ensure safety and security at our facilities. We are aware of the incident referenced by the union and immediately launched an investigation when it happened," Prospect said. "Since the incident, we have introduced additional training for our security officers and created a new system-wide, multidisciplinary team that will be dedicated to preventing workplace violence within the system."

Christiansen said half the staff of the operating room at her hospital had left, with the remaining staff trying to orient personnel sent in from agencies.

Neopolitano said the hospital was not as clean as it used to be because there were fewer sanitation workers.

Prospect said it had not changed staffing levels.

In court Wednesday, County Orphans' Court President Judge Chad Kenney recused himself and was replaced by Judge Barry Dozor in the dispute between Crozer-Keystone and Prospect.

Last year, for-profit Prospect, backed by the private-equity firm Leonard Green & Partners LP, agreed to pay $300 million for the nonprofit health system, with most of the money going toward the system's debt. The balance, $53 million, would go to a new charity, the Crozer-Keystone Community Foundation, formed to improve community health.

So far, Prospect has paid about $33 million, with Prospect saying it doesn't owe any more because Crozer-Keystone changed the terms of the sale. The foundation and the health system are arguing that Prospect must pay the balance, plus interest, or about $21 million.

The case is to continue Thursday.