Violence Against Nurses: A Rising Epidemic

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Nurses and health care professionals are encountering violence in the workplace more frequently. While workplace violence in healthcare settings is far from a new development, it’s becoming an epidemic among nurses who aren’t always willing to report these incidents.

How Prevalent Is Violence Against Nurses?

According to a recent study from The Joint Commission, around 75% of approximately 25,000 workplace assaults take place every year in healthcare settings, but a mere 30% of nurses and 26% of physicians in emergency departments actually report these incidents. One of the reasons for the lack of reporting is that many nurses and others are desensitized to workplace violence, seeing it as “part of the job.”

Although workplace violence is already commonplace in many healthcare settings, some experts believe that it’s increasing. The American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) found that around 7 out of every 10 emergency department physicians believe that workplace violence is becoming more prevalent in these environments. This includes violence affecting patients, as 80% of physicians stated that violence impacted patients in some way, with 50% stating that patients had actually sustained physical harm. Another 47% of physicians stated that they were physically assaulted in the workplace.

The most common type of workplace violence committed against healthcare workers involves patients or their friends or family. Violence also takes place between staff members, including incidents involving physicians assaulting nurses and other employees.

Steps Taken to Combat Workplace Violence Against Nurses

Although the government has implemented legislature to help mitigate workplace violence in healthcare settings, advocacy groups are asking for more intervention. In 2019, the Nevada Assembly’s Committee on Commerce and Labor passed a bill with the goal of ensuring employer accountability in providing a safe workplace for employees. Meanwhile, the ACEP requested Congress to work to make sure that the Workplace Violence Prevention for Health Care and Social Service Workers Act is enforced through proper staffing.

Reasons for the Increase

Hospitals and other healthcare environments can be stressful for everyone involved, including patients, patients’ friends and family, and healthcare workers. Oftentimes, this stress along with other factors can culminate in violent outbursts. Illnesses, injuries, and the fear and emotional vulnerability associated with those issues could lead patients and their loved ones to lash out, with healthcare workers often on the receiving end.

Some experts are blaming the healthcare system for contributing to the stress that leads to violence from patients and their families, as not enough is being done to help reduce the stress inherent in the system. The costs of healthcare for patients can place significant financial stress on everyone involved, and a lack of resources further leaves many feeling helpless and angry. At the same time, employees are unhappy with the way employers are neglecting to handle and address violence.

Employees in the healthcare industry are assaulted every day across the country. This includes both physical and verbal attacks, mostly from patients and their friends or family who are emotionally volatile at the time.

How Facilities Can Reduce Violence

There are a couple of ways healthcare employees and employers may be able to prevent incidents of workplace violence, particularly those involving patients.

First, it’s important for staff to identify patients as “high-risk” if they show any signs of aggression or agitation. This includes patients who are given drugs that may impair them, like anesthesia. In some cases, high-risk patients may include those who are intoxicated on illegal drugs.

In addition to identifying and notifying staff of high-risk patients, the World Health Organization (WHO) has recommended implementing an integrated approach to intervening in violent incidents, effectively holding employers accountable for making sure that employees are both safe and, in the event of violence, properly treated.

One implementation with mixed results has been the use of mobile applications that include an alarm system to alert staff if violence takes place. However, many employees in healthcare settings aren’t permitted to have their phones with them on the job. In some cases, employees may even be unable to access the app when engaging a violent patient or employee.

Working Toward Creating a Safer Workspace for Nurses

While certain solutions in place aren’t always the most effective in reducing workplace violence in healthcare settings, employers can help keep the workplace safer by developing and implementing a workplace violence prevention plan. This should cover everything from screening new employees before hiring to conducting regular evaluations of existing plans to determine their effectiveness, holding both employees and employers accountable based on their roles.

Taking the right steps to mitigate violence can help keep nurses and other healthcare staff safer. At the same time, patients could benefit from an environment that works to reduce stress and makes them less prone to commit violent acts.