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Violence in our Hospitals

Last month in Dearborn Michigan a young women who was simply minding her own business was violently attacked. The women was in the process of checking into the emergency room at Beaumont Hospital when a patient who had been previously discharged attacked her from behind. The attacker was known to hospital staff as he had been directed by security to wait in the ER lobby when he was found wondering the halls of the hospital disrupting patients and visitors. Hospital staff quickly intervened but the damage was already done.

Warning: Some viewers may find these images disturbing:

Beyond just being disturbing to see an innocent person attacked is the frustration of knowing that our hospitals are becoming increasingly violent for staff, patients and visitors. I spoke to a nurse this past week and he shared that violent attacks happen so frequently he has lost count of the times he has been hit, spit on, kicked or otherwise assaulted. And his story is just one of a long string of examples of the violence that is plaguing our Health Care professionals. "Something" has to change!

In my opinion, one of the biggest obstacles to overcome is denial, followed closely by ignorance. I don't use either of those strong words lightly and there is certainly a recognition that there is a major problem, but it simply hasn't been enough. Recently, the Joint Commission released a discussion on the need for early screening of the potential for violence against themselves or others. Why the need for additional screening methods? Because the problem is significant.

According to a 2014 survey conducted by the American Nurses Association, more than half of nurses and nursing students surveyed reported having been verbally abused and more than 20% physically assaulted. James Phillips, of Harvard Medical School and the Department of Emergency Medicine at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, reviewed recent research on health care workplace violence and the findings were equally disturbing. According to the research :

  • Nearly 75 percent of all workplace assaults between 2011 and 2013 occurred in the health care industry;

  • Between 2000 and 2011, 154 shootings resulted in an injury on the grounds of U.S. hospitals;

  • 80 percent of emergency medical workers experience physical violence during their careers;

  • 39 percent of nurses report verbal assaults each year; and

  • 13 percent of nurses report physical abuse each year.

Fortunately, there are measures starting to take shape. California is the first in the nation to enact a Workplace Violence Prevention standard specifically geared towards healthcare. The CalOSHA standard, California Code of Regulations, Title 8, Section 3342 went into full effect on April 1st, 2018. Unfortunately, the violence continues at alarming rates. As a community we have to continue to ask questions, we have to work for change and we cannot allow ourselves or our staff to become comfortable being uncomfortable. This cannot become our new normal!

About the author: Mr. Alvarez is a security expert who specializes in workplace violence prevention and a Certified Threat Manager™ by the Association of Threat Assessment Professionals. He holds a BS in Criminal Justice. He has built over 25 years of threat management, security, domestic terrorism and crisis management experience serving as a Security Director protecting one of our nation's most sensitive critical infrastructures, to working as a city police officer and as a professional security consultant. He understands the challenges individuals and organizations face when addressing the threats of violence because he has responded to them.

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