Violence Against Nurses, An Epidemic


Over the past decade, the amount of violence against nurses has more than doubled. When will we protect our nurses?

We have spoken about workplace violence on this blog before, but today I want to focus specifically on patient-to-worker violence against nurses. The health care sector makes up just 9 percent of the overall U.S. workforce, but there are nearly just as many violent injuries as all other industries combined. Nearly 75 percent of all workplace assaults happen in the healthcare, and due to underreporting, that could be understating the problem.

There are currently no federal rules that require hospitals or healthcare organizations to implement policy or procedure to protect nurses from workplace violence. Even more shocking, is that it is common for nurses to not report violent attacks due to a fear of retaliation or punishment from their employer. Though some states are looking introduce legislation to protect their healthcare workers, what more can be done to curb workplace violence against nurses?

The Impact of Violence Against Nurses

Violence in the workplace negatively affects nurses. Of course, there are the obvious physical effects of the bites, scratches, or injuries left from a violent patient-to-worker attack. However, there are other costs when it comes to violence against nurses.

Studies have shown a direct link between violence in the workplace against nurses and the experiences of:

  • Negative stress
  • Decreased work productivity
  • Decreased quality of patient care

One major reason we need to significantly reduce the number of violent attacks on nurses in the workplace is because ultimately, patients suffer. When nurses are scared to come to work or treat a patient, it will affect how they act, what they say, and what they do.

Who is attacking our nurses?

While it is true that any patient could attack a nurse at any time, certain types of patients are more likely to have a violent outburst than others. These types of patients include:

  • Patients with Alzheimer’s Disease/Dementia
  • Patients with drug-seeking behavior
  • Patients under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol
  • Patients with severe mental illness/cognitive impairments

While patients that have dementia, use drugs, or have mental illness may never hurt a fly, these patients are more likely to feel threatened, confused, or paranoid, which could lead to violence.

Violence Against Nurses, An Understated Epidemic

In 2013, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated that healthcare workers are 5 to 12 times more likely to experience violence in the workplace than for workers overall. Furthermore, the organization found that over the past decade, there has been an 110 percent increase in the rate of violence against healthcare workers.

There are a couple of different reasons why this has happened, but it was a domino effect really. Let’s start with the Great Recession. During this period in the late 2000s, public and private hospitals cut their budgets, letting go of employees, and eliminating health insurance. This meant that when a violent outburst did occur, there were fewer nurses and security employees to handle the situation. Not only did hospitals make cuts, states slashed billions of dollars in funding for preventative mental health care.

Understaffed hospitals saw a surge in new patients. Why? Because with much more Americans without health insurance, they went to hospitals because they knew they wouldn’t be turned away for lack of coverage. A percentage of the patients that were able to seek preventative mental health care before could no longer afford it. When they have an episode, these psych patient also go to the hospital.

The major issue that arises in the emergency departments of hospitals is that the ED staff is unlikely to be trained or prepared to deal with violent outbursts.

Lack of reporting of violence against nurses

With all the alarming statistics, it’s hard to hear that this epidemic is likely understated. How could that be? Many nurses will not report a physical attack against them. Nurses have shared stories of being punished for calling 9-1-1 after being assaulted. This fear of retaliation is a major reason nurses will not report being attacked.

Another reason violence against nurses goes unreported is because the physical assaults happen so often in some organizations. There are some nurses who will tell you that the violence against them is normal and just a ‘part of the job’. This is particularly alarming that the violence against nurses has gotten so bad that some nurses have normalized it and are not affected by it.

Stopping the Violence Against Nurses

At this point, workplace violence against nurses, or any other healthcare staff, can no longer go unnoticed. Many people will tell nurses to take a self-defense class so they can protect themselves, but this does not at all solve the workplace violence epidemic.

First and foremost, Federal legislation and programs need to be put in place that will require hospitals and healthcare organizations to implement policies to protect nurses. This may mean making it a felony to assault a nurse like Montana is trying to do. Secondly, hospitals should create or update workplace violence policy and procedures to focus on the security of the environment, surveillance & reporting, and educating healthcare workers on violence prevention and management.

Those solutions address the effects of violence against nurses but do nothing to address the causes. If we can’t figure out how to staff our hospitals and provide affordable preventative care, we won’t be able to protect our nurses. If you are a travel nurse, make sure that you look to work for healthcare organizations that are taking steps to curb workplace violence against nurses.

Author: Travel Nurse Source

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