The unfortunate but extraordinarily serious problem.
The emotions that are heightened during health care encounters and the
number of patients with behavioral issues make healthcare workers at a significantly increased risk for workplace violence. In fact, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) reported from 2002 to 2013 that serious workplace violence resulting in an injured worker requiring days off to recuperate were four times more common in healthcare than in private industry.
This is an incredibly difficult paradox that those who work closest to heal and care are at the greatest risk to suffer. And suffer not just from physical violence but also the verbal abuse that can lead to stress and emotional trauma.
As one nurse told me, “It is hard to care for a patient when you are constantly looking at your back.”
Healthcare workers often accept this as part of the profession. Many will put their own safety at risk trying to do the right things for patients and recognizing that the violence propagated by patients is often unintentional or even unavoidable.
It is vital for all of us to recognize the issue and take the necessary steps to minimize the risks to our employees, our patients, their families and visitors. Training, de-escalation strategies, protective procedures and prevention all play a role.
During my first month as CEO six years ago, an incredibly perceptive security officer recognized an individual standing in our lobby as someone who intended to do harm to someone else. That someone else was a nurse who had stopped her relationship with this person. Recognition, quick response and action to secure safety averted what could have been a tragedy.
Shortly thereafter a second incident occurred when a patient with medical and behavioral problems injured one of our nurses. When we looked into the circumstances, we found several things we could have done to have prevented this.
When asked the usually mundane question of CEOs, “What keeps you up at night?” I could honestly say, violence within our sanctuary of healing.
We created an ongoing workplace violence task force, reinforced education and recognition, created a swat team to de-escalate and contain, and minimize risks in our environment.
And to those who believe this only occurs in busy urban environments, understand that this phenomenon of healthcare-related violence can and does occur in all parts of our country, and throughout the social strata of our population.
Our Safety Huddles have been a good addition in bringing related issues to the front, but I want to ask each of you to think about this issue and speak up.
Do you feel safe, and, if not, why?
What would make you feel safer?
What more can we do to ensure, as much as possible, a safe environment to let you do your primary job, that is, return patients to health and wellness?
The issue is complex and solutions have to be measured and well thought out. But the issue is critical for us to protect our most important asset: all of you.