Violence and abuse against nurses have grown into serious problems in healthcare settings across the country, from hospitals and long-term care facilities to rehab centers and clinics. In addition to physical and mental abuse, it’s also been reported that sexual harassment is a major challenge in the workplace for both male and female nurses.
A press release from the American Nurses Association (ANA) on February 1, 2018 explains that it first launched the #EndNurseAbuse Initiative in 2017 with the intent of addressing workplace abuse against nurses. The ANA also supports the #TimesUpNow movement, which promotes enforcing consequences for harassment, sexual assault, abuse, and inequality in the workplace.
Just how serious is this problem of violence against nurses? In the past few months, two nurses in Illinois were taken hostage, one was beaten and raped, and a nurse in Massachusetts was stabbed by a patient. Making headlines also was the Utah nurse who was wrongly arrested after being shoved by a police officer; a nurse in Arkansas was pushed down a flight of stairs. Just a couple of weeks ago, abuse incidents were reported in three different states – and those are just the ones that get picked up by the media.
ANA President Pamela F. Cipriano, PhD, RN, NEA-BC, FAAN explains, “Nurse safety is a critical component to ensure quality and safe care. Time’s up for employers who don’t take swift and meaningful action to make the workplace safe for nurses. Together, nurses, employers and the public must take steps to change our culture. Abuse is not part of anyone’s job and has no place in healthcare settings.”
Why the Increase in Violence?
Between 2005 and 2014, the number of violent acts toward nurses and medical caretakers rose at an alarming rate, increasing by 110% in private sector hospitals. A study in the Journal of Emergency Nursing found that 76% of nurses at a private hospital system in Virginia said they had experienced abuse in verbal or physical form from patients in 2014.
According to ANA’s Health Risk Appraisal in 2015, one in four nurses had been assaulted by patients or their family members while trying to do their jobs. Similarly, 25% of nurses reportedly experienced violence in their workplaces in 2016. Even though the healthcare sector makes up only 9% of the overall workforce in the United States, it sees as many violent injuries as all other industries combined.
One of the contributing factors of this increase in assaults aimed toward nurses is the fact that these professionals must often deal with patients who are feeling vulnerable, scared, and emotionally volatile. In addition, cognitive deficits can also lead patients to act out toward their caretakers.
“A lack of funding may also be to blame,” says Alexia Campbell of The Atlantic. “After the Great Recession, many health care providers cut staff levels, which meant fewer nurses and security guards are available to help when patients got out of control,” Campbell said. States also dramatically cut funding for preventive mental health services in some cases.
The Search for Solutions
Currently, there are no federal regulations in place that are designed to guide hospitals to protect their health care workers from workplace violence. However, pressure is growing for regulators to take action and protect our nurses.
The U.S. Department of Labor is considering setting nationwide workplace safety standards for hospitals and medical care facilities to try to curb violence against staff members.
At the state level, several states have taken the initiative and now require healthcare facilities to teach de-escalation techniques to their staff members.
Trickling down from the state level, more and more hospitals are taking their own steps to reduce violence against their medical personnel. For example, in Massachusetts, Providence Behavioral Hospital hosts self-defense classes every week that are designed specifically for nurses. In addition, Mercy Medical Center, also in Massachusetts, conducts training exercises that simulate domestic violence, behavioral health violence, and other situations.
The #EndNurseAbuse Initiative and the ANA
Requiring training and implementing regulations aren’t the only answer, however. There are still far too many nurses who say they are discouraged from speaking out about violent incidents; a disturbing number of nurses also say they are treated dismissively by supervisors when they do. According to the Journal of Emergency Nursing study, only about 29 percent of nurses who have experienced a physical attack reported the incident.
In 2015, the ANA adopted a policy of “zero tolerance” for violence that takes place in healthcare facility settings, and called for nurses, along with their employers, to work together. The goal is to not only reduce abusive, violent incidents, but also to ultimately prevent as many as possible from happening at in the first place.
The ANA has developed a pledge for everyone – not just health care professionals – to stand with nurses. The pledge asks people to support zero tolerance policies for abuse against nurses, report abuse whenever it’s safely possible, and to share the pledge with family and friends, asking them to sign as well. The ANA also asks that all nurses share their stories on workplace abuse. So far, everything seems to be starting on the right track, with just over 10,000 nurses and people from the public pledging.
In addition, the ANA has plans to convene a panel consisting of experts to address the barriers nurses often face when it comes to reporting these abuses. There are currently more than 3.6 million registered nurses and with that, #EndNurseAbuse is making strides to create safer work environments for our nurses, who make up the largest group of health care professionals we have.
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