Fear is a common emotion experienced by people before entering the hospital. Depending on whether we are being admitted, or visiting a loved one, the degree of fear can vary. This is fed by the questions we ask ourselves but are often unable to answer upfront, like,. “Am I going to be okay?” “Is my family member going to be okay? “Are the test results positive?” “How much pain will I have to endure?” One thing we usually don’t ask ourselves is, “Am I or my loved one going to be a victim of violence while in an establishment intended for healing.”
Impact of Hospital Violence
Violence against healthcare workers has risen dramatically in recent years and almost seems to be commonplace. When many others outside of the healthcare industry leave work feeling tired after a long day, the nurses and caregivers we rely upon for patient care are most vulnerable, and may be going home not only tired and sore, but sometimes bruised, cut, or mentally exhausted from enduring some form of workplace violence. Some studies suggest that 40-75% of healthcare workers have suffered some form of violence, verbal and/or physical, by patients and their family members. Only incidents involving time away from work are reported so it’s expected that the numbers are underreported. Since nurses are on the front line of patient care, they are the hospital personnel most at risk within the hospital.
There’s also a huge financial impact for hospitals caused by workplace violence. One example from OSHA is a hospital system that had 30 nurses who required treatment for violent injuries in a particular year; at a total cost of $94,156 ($78,924 for treatment and $15,232 for lost wages). Hospitals and healthcare organizations that self-insure have to take on the sole financial responsibility, while other organizations still feel an impact through their insurance premiums. The estimated cost for replacing a nurse is $27,000 to $103,000, which includes lost productivity, recruiting, hiring, training, etc.
Influencing Factors for Hospital Violence
Geography and population affect hospital violence. A hospital in a low crime, suburban setting most likely will have a differing history of violence compared to a hospital in a high crime urban setting. For instance, areas high in gang activity may greatly impact hospital violence. The rise of substance abuse and untreated mental illness has also been shown to increase the risk of violence within hospitals. While most incidents occur with patients, there are also many incidents caused by visitors—including family and friends.
The Call for Additional Protections for Healthcare Workers
Even with the alarming rate of violence in healthcare settings, we still do not have any federally mandated laws aimed at protecting healthcare workers. Some states, as well as individual facilities, have passed some of their own measures over the years. Some examples being, violence prevention programs which teach healthcare employees methods to de-escalate issues, increasing penalties for people convicted of assaulting healthcare workers, and offering self-defense classes to their employees. Unfortunately, this is not the norm in the US, and a lot of nurses and healthcare workers are still under-prepared when violence erupts.
Hospitals Recognize Need for Better Security
The healthcare industry is aware of the problem as there has been a great deal of attention on the major incidents such as hospital shooters. Florida Hospital recently announced that it has deployed extensive new security measures and invested $3.5 million dollars across its entire health system in Central Florida. Security investments include an additional 150 uniformed officers, undercover security personnel, 2,500 security cameras, and most recently announced, gun powder sniffing dogs. While the healthcare industry has often been criticized in the past for a reactive stance to security, many advancements have been made in the last few years, thanks to public awareness helping to put security at the forefront.
What is your organization doing to help improve security and safety?
Here are some workplace violence prevention resources to help equip you in your quest for improved security and safety:
- OSHA’s Guidelines for Preventing Workplace Violence for Healthcare and Social Service Workers
- Preventing Workplace Violence: A Road Map for Healthcare Facilities
- Workplace Violence Prevention and Related Goals: The Big Picture
- US. News & World Report: Violence in the Healthcare Workplace