Whether it is from their patients or visitors, workplace violence in healthcare has long been a massive problem. The World Health Organization claims that “8 to 38% of all nurses have suffered from healthcare violence, at some point in their careers.” It is impossible for HCPs to provide the best possible care, while they are suffering from harassment from the patients they are supposed to serve. Because of this, healthcare facilities have a responsibility to protect their staff from workplace violence. With the right strategies and systems in place, facilities across the country can do right by their healthcare workers.
What Is Workplace Violence?
Moving forward, workplace violence refers to physical, sexual, or verbal abuse committed by patients or visitors, towards HCPs. As was mentioned earlier, this happens far more often than it should. In fact, workplace abuse rates in healthcare are larger than in most sectors of the workforce.
Why Is Workplace Violence So Common in Healthcare Settings?
A number of factors have combined to make workplace violence so prevalent. Thanks to staffing shortages (among other things), HCPs are under increased pressure and stress. This lowers the quality of care, which increases frustration among patients and visitors. Staffing shortages not only exacerbate these problems, they also lower the capacity for patients across different hospitals. This means HCPs are more likely to come into conflict with patients who want to be admitted but cannot be.
Some of this is also the nature of the job. When you work with thousands of patients every day, you will eventually run into patients or visitors with violent dispositions and short temperaments. What is inexcusable is the lack of preventative measures and systems, on the part of certain healthcare facilities. Without assistance from the facilities themselves, HCPs will be exposed to patient violence no matter what.
What Are the Consequences of Workplace Violence?
Workplace violence is an extra source of stress, in an already stressful line of work. Regularly experiencing targeted violence can cause several mental problems related to stress, or exacerbate them. This includes but is not limited to, depression, anxiety, and burnout. All this eventually causes mass resignations and larger turnover, which makes the HCP shortage far worse than it already is.
In addition, healthcare workers can get injured by particularly violent and physical outbursts from a patient or visitor. They can get incapacitated by these injuries and/or traumatized by the whole ordeal.
What Can Be Done?
Facilities have both a material and moral imperative to address workplace violence. If left unchecked, staff will resign en masse and leave the facility shorthanded and crippled. More importantly, they need to ensure the health and safety of everyone who works under them. Not doing so would be a complete and utter failure for the nurse leaders and administrators in charge.
While there is no “one size fits all” solution, there are a number of measures that facilities can institute, to better protect their HCPs. Bringing in temporary HCPs is a good solution, as understaffing is one of the major causes of patient violence. When a facility’s patient-to-staff ratios are skewed, HCPs become more stressed and the quality of care diminishes, which results in increased patient violence. Bringing in temporary HCPs allows the facility to weather the storm until patient counts return to normal.
Instituting a proper reporting system is also paramount. HCPs should be able to notify administrators and leaders on workplace violence, as soon as possible. The facility has a responsibility to educate the staff on the existence of such a system, the policies regarding what does and doesn’t count as workplace violence, and how they would go about reporting. Not only that, but the facility should be responsive. If a reporting system is in place, but nothing is ever done about repeated abuse cases, then staff will know that it is completely useless.
Facilities must also look into investing in proper training programs. HCPs must be instructed and educated on what to do when they are confronted with violence, and how they can protect themselves in precarious situations. They need to know how to de-escalate confrontations, how to recognize hostile behaviors, and when they should retreat from the premises and ask for assistance.
This may go without saying, but investing in security should also be a top priority. In the event that a situation escalates beyond control, there needs to be emergency alarms on hand. A proper security system, trained guards, and a developed emergency response protocol would prevent catastrophic outcomes.