For decades, healthcare workers, especially nurses, believed that when they go to work, verbal and physical from patients and their families was not only possible, but totally acceptable.
It’s only been within the past few years that the medical community and larger public have taken an interest in the reducing number of assaults in healthcare settings. In 2017, Time’s Up established a branch devoted to protecting health professionals. And at the American Nurses Credentialing Center’s 2019 Magnet Conference, one of the chosen charities was the #EndNurseAbuse campaign.
But even with these efforts, many people on frontlines aren’t aware of which situations in their day-to-day work carry the highest risk for abuse. In fact, recent research from Mount Sinai found that most nurses have never been educated about workplace violence at all.
To fill a sliver of this educational gap, here are the most common types of violence in healthcare settings, per an April 2018 Sentinel Alert from the Join Commission.
Most incidents are verbal in nature.
These include implicit and explicit threats against you or people close to you, name-calling, sexual harassment and bullying. Physical violence, such as assault, battery and stalking, are also common, but shootings are rare.
Most often, patients or visitors are abusing workers.
According to the National Crime Victimization Survey, healthcare workers have a 20 percent higher chance of being the victim of workplace violence than other workers.
Many incidents workers don’t recognize as violence.
Workplace violence in healthcare is grossly underreported, in part because its victims are uncertain what constitutes violence. It’s common to justify such actions with the aggressor’s mental state. Another factor: people think it’s just “part of the job,” even though it doesn’t have to be.
Inpatient psychiatric settings and EDs have the most recorded incidents.
That said, virtually all types of healthcare settings have recorded incidences of violence at some point.
Violence is incredibly common in long-term care settings.
These environments, especially when they’re residential, are less controlled and therefore present different challenges. Sixty-one percent of home care workers report violence annually.
Most often, aggressors have altered mental status.
Dementia, delirium, substance intoxication or decompensated mental illness are frequent drivers. Other than this characteristic, there aren’t many similarities among aggressors; there’s no conclusive evidence linking healthcare violence to any demographic groups or urban versus suburban versus rural settings.
Other common factors associated with violence in healthcare settings include:
- Stress, for example as a result of long wait times, crowding, being given bad news, etc.
- Lack of policies and training for security and staff to de-escalate patients or other visitors
- Gang activity
- Domestic disputes among patients or visitors
- Presence of firearms or other weapons
- Inadequate security or mental health personnel on-site
- Staff working in isolation or situations where they have no escape route
- Poor lighting and other factors restricting vision
- No access to emergency communication
- Unrestricted, public access to hospital rooms and clinics
- Lack of community mental health care.
If you are a victim of abuse at work, either physical or verbal, notify leadership, internal security and law enforcement, if necessary. You should also file an incident report with your employer, which can help prevent it from happening again.