Workplace Violence in Healthcare Explained

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Many new nurses graduate in June, entering the healthcare profession with anticipation and a desire to serve. They’ve put in a lot of studies and hard work to get to this point, and should be proud to be a healthcare professional. Sadly for many, their experience entering their first job is met with what 50% of their colleagues have endured: verbal abuse. And even worse, they experienced what 20% of professional nurses have confronted: physical violence in the workplace.

As many of us have been led to believe, hospitals are a place of healing. Yet the violence against healthcare professionals is escalating, and it’s not only the professionals who are experiencing this physical and verbal abuse, it’s members of their family as well. According to a recent article by OneRep, steps are being taken to prevent violence against doctors and nurses at hospitals across the country.

How could such a healing and caring profession have so much violence associated with it? While it may surprise most people the reality is that healthcare workers are subject to more violence than most every other profession. In fact, it has become the most dangerous profession to work in, as healthcare workers are four times more likely to take days off from work due to injuries than any other professional. Some of the violence can be attributed to the patients who are often substance abusers or have psychiatric problems. But the statistics keep escalating, and the violence keeps growing.

A Day at the Hospital

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Unfortunately, nurses and doctors have been slapped, kicked, hit, punched, bitten, scratched and spat upon. This is all happening while trying to help the patient through a healthcare crisis or illness. Instead of gratitude, they receive verbal and physical abuse. Another cause can be attributed to many hospitals caring for psychiatric patients and prisoners. In addition, many patients enter the hospital with altered mental state, or are highly intoxicated. Other patients may have a reduced mental capacity, and will react to healthcare workers with violence due to perceived violence.

There’s another problem facing hospitals according to one study of nurses at Minnesota-based hospitals, and that is underreporting of violent incidents or verbal assaults. That study showed that only 69% of nurses reported physical assaults, and only 71% reported non-physical assaults. When asked why the incidents weren’t reported, the answers ranged from a lack of confidence in the hospital’s reporting system, to fear of retribution for reporting the problem in the first place.

Sometimes, violent situations occur due to crowded facilities, long wait times for patients to see a healthcare professional, understaffed clinics and inadequate security staff or no mental health professionals on-site to help defuse potentially violent patients.

Many nurses and other healthcare workers are concerned about violence toward family members. Patients can easily find personal information on people-search sites, including information about the healthcare worker and their family members. Many threats of violence are directed at those family members, so there is an alarming cause for concern.

Finding Solutions that Work

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There’s been a huge wake-up call at hospitals and healthcare institutions about the escalating problems of workplace violence, and many steps are being taken to address the problem. For example, because worker and family members’ information is so readily available to patients on the Internet thanks to people-search sites like Whitepages, PeopleFinders and InstantCheckmate, workers are encouraged to remove all of their unauthorized personal information from those sites.

Unfortunately, there are more than 100 of those people-search sites, and each one has its own protocol for removing information and opting out. It’s a time-consuming job, but it’s the only way to ensure that irate, disgruntled or potentially violent patients can’t gain access to personal information about healthcare workers or their family members.

OSHA, the Occupational Safety and Health Association, has produced a guide on solutions to curb workplace violence. These guidelines for developing workplace violence prevention programs are an important step for healthcare entities and hospitals. What’s unique about their programs is that each hospital can tailor the programs to meet their specific requirements.

It’s not only hospitals and large institutional medical facilities that are subject to violence in the workplace. The guidelines also apply to residential treatment facilities, nursing homes and long-term care facilities, neighborhood clinics, Community Care facilities and even field workers who visit patients at home.

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Many hospitals are implementing their own violence in the workplace reporting systems, including steps that would be taken once a report has been initiated. This is designed to give employees confidence in the reporting system, and is encouraging workers to report all types of physical and verbal assaults. Hospitals want to make reporting an incident simple, and also make the reporting system accessible to all workers. When this happens, all incidents are accurately reported and it provides management an opportunity to address the incident and how it’s responding to it.

Unfortunately, many healthcare workers have come to be complacent about the violent workplace incidents, due to the patient base they treat. To avoid that complacency, hospitals are now implementing vigorous training programs that are designed to encourage all healthcare workers to prevent violence and report all incidents.

The government is also stepping up efforts to help curb violence in the healthcare workplace. For example, in 2019 the House passed HR 1309, “the Workplace Violence Prevention for Healthcare and Social Services Act of 2019”,  which mandates that all social services employees and healthcare workers take appropriate steps to minimize violence in their workplace.

There’s not going to be a “quick fix” to the problem, but with appropriate steps and innovative programs there will be progress made and violence against healthcare workers will be reduced