Why Hospitals Must Become Safe Zones
How one health system is taking action to deter violence against healthcare workers
By Ashley Capps | January 20, 2020
We all deserve a workplace free from violence. Unfortunately, that’s not a reality for healthcare professionals.
Federal statistics show that healthcare workers are four times more likely than their counterparts in the private sector to suffer serious workplace injury as a result of violence. It’s a trend that’s on the rise. Nationally, recent reports indicate nearly seven in 10 U.S. emergency department physicians say workplace violence has increased in the past five years, with 25 percent reporting it has increased greatly.
The problem is not limited to any individual health system, hospital or other health institution. It’s a multifaceted national issue that has very real impacts at the state and local level. Healthcare workers, like their colleagues in law enforcement, fire and emergency medical services, are committed to serving and supporting the community. They should not be subjected to violence in pursuit of that goal.
The long-lasting impacts
The impact of violent patients is serious. Not only does patient-perpetrated violence leave physical wounds that can force people out of work, it can also leave long-lasting emotional scars. It’s not unusual for healthcare workers who are victims of violence at the hands of a patient to be reluctant to return to work. Some never do. The impact of violence in healthcare extends beyond workers and their families. Patients are affected, too, when a caregiver is forced to leave the bedside to respond to another patient’s violent outburst. And the entire community loses when a dedicated healthcare worker leaves the profession.
What’s needed to stop the violence
Halting the rise of patient-perpetrated violence will require a comprehensive approach involving not just hospitals and health systems but also partners at the local, state and national levels. At Tidelands Health, we have:
- substantially increased our security budget,
- trained staff on strategies to de-escalate aggressive patients,
- given our security guards more response tools, and
- made significant improvements in our video monitoring capabilities.
In addition, we have also completed a comprehensive security risk assessment at each our outpatient locations and are using the results to enhance our security precautions. Still, more work must be done.
At a national level, perhaps one of the most important next steps is for policymakers to fund research to better understand the causes of workplace violence in healthcare. Although studies have quantified the rise of workplace violence in healthcare, more work is needed to better understand its causes. Such information can be used to devise specific, actionable solutions that can be applied flexibly within different healthcare institutions based upon their specific circumstances. At the end of the day, we all share a responsibility to help ensure our healthcare institutions are safe places to give and receive care.
Associate Vice President of Nursing Operations for Tidelands Health
Ashley Capps serves as associate vice president of nursing operations for Tidelands Health, which serves the Carolinas at four hospitals and more than 60 outpatient locations. Mrs. Capps, who has more than 19 years of clinical and operational experience, is responsible for emergency departments, critical care units, women and children’s services and other programs across the health system. She holds a bachelor’s degree in nursing from Western Carolina University and a master’s degree in nursing from Western Governor’s University. She is a member of the American College of Healthcare Executives, the American Organization of Nurse Executives and the South Carolina Organization of Nurse Leaders.