Workplace Violence in Healthcare Explained
The national news on television and news that’s read online is filled with tragic stories of workplace violence, where disgruntled employees or others have gone in and opened fire with assault rifles, killing fellow workers or innocent bystanders. In fact, it’s so prevalent that many experts are calling it an epidemic. But there’s another type of workplace violence that gets little coverage on the news, a type of violence that most people never hear or know about. It’s violence in healthcare – violence against nurses and doctors, and it’s growing.
Workplace violence in nursing is a rapidly growing problem according to OSHA (Occupational Health and Safety Administration), with 50% of professional nurses being subjected to verbal abuse, and 20% subjected to physical violence at hospitals and other medical facilities across the country. Sadly, it isn’t only the nurses, and often doctors as well, who are subjected to workplace violence. It’s also being committed against members of their families. One striking statistic shows that healthcare workers are four times more likely than other professionals to experience workplace violence, which makes it one of the most hazardous jobs around.
Why this is Happening
To understand workplace violence in healthcare, one only has to look at patients who are often the ones causing the verbal and physical assaults. Often, they are suffering from altered mental states due to mental illness, drug and alcohol abuse, and other factors. According to one survey on hospital crimes, 93% of assaults in the healthcare setting were committed by patients. These same disgruntled and abusive patients also threaten the family members of the workers. And because information and data on the worker and the workers’ family members is readily available on people-search sites, it’s a great cause of concern.
The other problem that’s confronting hospitals and healthcare facilities is the fact that many of the assaults, whether verbal or physical, go unreported. In fact, one survey of nurses in Minnesota found that only 69% of workers reported physical assaults, and only 71% reported non-physical assaults. The reasons given were that there was little confidence in the facility’s reporting system, or that the worker feared retaliation for reporting the incident.
Finding Solutions to the Problem
Healthcare providers and hospital administrators are constantly looking for solutions to curb the escalating workplace violence against nurses and doctors. In addition to incidents of biting, hitting, spitting, punching, and slapping, the constant threat of the altercation turning into fatal accidents have workers scared. Some who have been threatened request security escorts to their vehicles, and try to keep their personal information from being viewed by others in order to prevent stalking.
Because agitated or mentally unstable patients can find information about workers and their families on people-search sites, many institutions are now teaching them how to remove unauthorized personal information from those websites.
Hospital workers aren’t the only ones who are feeling threatened. Workers at nursing homes, residential treatment facilities, prison infirmaries, neighborhood clinics, and field workers who see and treat patients at their homes are also affected. Those who work in the mental health field are especially at risk, as their patients are often the most impacted by mental instability for a variety of reasons.
A guide developed by OSHA that includes solutions designed to stop or minimize workplace violence is now being used by hospitals and other facilities. The guidelines help facilities develop workplace violence prevention programs, and offer the facilities the ability to alter the programs to meet their specific needs.
Because nurses and other healthcare workers believe that workplace violence is simply a part of the job, hospitals are now teaching them to identify different violent incidents. The second part of that program is to have a reporting system in place that enables the workers to report the violent acts they can identify. From there, workplace violence prevention programs can be implemented to help protect the workers based on the facility’s unique needs. Having these processes in place is critical to help reduce or completely eliminate the violence.
Help from the Government
Thankfully, there is additional help in curbing violence against healthcare workers, and it’s coming from the government. In 2019, the “Workplace Violence Prevention for Healthcare and Social Services act of 2019” was passed by the House, known as HR 1309. The act mandates that healthcare workers and social services employees take the appropriate steps necessary to minimize the violence that’s occurring in the workplace.
Progress is Slow But Steady
Everyone involved in fighting workplace violence in healthcare knows there are no fast solutions for ending the problem. And while progress is slow, it is steady. The more that healthcare workers and the facilities they work for are made aware of the problem and the more programs are put in place to combat violence, the better the outcome will be and the faster the problem will end. That’s the goal everyone is working towards.
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