About 25 percent of nurses experienced workplace violence in the last year, and pressure is growing for regulators to take steps to protect them, Alexia Fernández Campbell reports for The Atlantic.
The health care sector makes up just 9 percent of the overall U.S. workforce—but it experiences nearly as many violent injuries as all other industries combined, Campbell writes. Between 2005 and 2014, the rate of health care workplace violence increased by 110 percent in private-sector hospitals, according to a U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics report.
Nearly 75 percent of all workplace assaults happen in health care, researchers find
Nurses bear much of that abuse: According to a 2015 study published in the Journal of Emergency Nursing, 76 percent of nurses at a private hospital system in Virginia said they had experienced physical or verbal abuse from patients in the previous year.
What's behind the trend
Violence in health care settings is in some ways unavoidable, Campbell writes. Nurses and doctors must deal with patients who are in emotionally volatile situations; cognitive deficits also may lead some patients to lash out.
A lack of funding may also be to blame, Campbell says. After the Great Recession, many health care providers cut staff levels—which "meant fewer nurses and security guards available to help when patients got out of control," Campbell writes. States also dramatically cut funding for preventive mental health services in some cases.
Currently, no federal regulations direct hospitals to protect nurses from workplace violence, according to Campbell. However, several states have taken steps on their own, such as requiring hospitals to teach de-escalation techniques to their staffs. For instance, California in October passed guidelines that require health care employers to implement violence-prevention plans based on employee feedback.
Some hospitals are taking their own steps to reduce violence against clinicians. For example, Massachusetts-based Providence Behavioral Hospital hosts weekly self-defense classes for nurses. And Massachusetts-based Mercy Medical Center conducts training exercises simulating behavioral health violence, domestic violence, and other situations.
The U.S. Department of Labor also is considering setting nationwide workplace-safety standards for hospitals to prevent violence against clinicians.
However, regulations and training aren't the only answer, Campbell writes. Many nurses say they are discouraged from speaking out about violent incidents and are treated dismissively by supervisors when they do. According to the Journal of Emergency Nursing study, only about 29 percent of nurses who experienced a physical attack reported the incident.
Bonnie Castillo, a registered nurse and director of health and safety for National Nurses United, said the problem is industry-wide. Nurses "always feel discouraged from reporting," she said (Fernández Campbell, The Atlantic, 12/1; National Nurses United release, 7/11; Flynn, The Republican/MassLive, 12/4/15).
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