The unusual trend in healthcare facility workplace violence
Workplace violence is declining nationally, so why is it increasing in healthcare facilities? Each year, there are fewer and fewer reported nonfatal workplace incidents and homicides, according to a report published by the Bureau of Justice Statistics. However, Advisory Board reported that 75 percent of all workplace assaults happen in healthcare facilities. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration categorizes several risk factors for violence in healthcare facilities. Some risk factors include:
- Lack of or poor training for recognizing and managing violent and aggressive incidents from visitors, staff, patients or clients
- Long waits for services and overcrowded waiting rooms
- Free movement of the public in healthcare settings
- Low staffing
- Notion that facilities tolerate violence and discourage or prevent victims from reporting incidents or pressing charges
- High employee turnover
- Working alone
- Poor facility design or inadequately lit rooms
- Working in neighborhoods with a high crime rate
In June 2017, an emergency room patient at Harrington Hospital in Southbridge, MA stabbed a nurse when he was being directed for care. The nurse suffered serious injuries, and the patient fled the campus only to be caught later.
Unfortunately, incidents like this happen often. Eighty percent of healthcare violence is directed toward healthcare workers by patients; visitors are the second most likely group to become violent. The most frequent types of aggressive behavior in healthcare facilities are grabbing, pushing and yelling.
Long waits for medical services escalates aggression
Patients and their families can become frustrated and agitated when they wait for medical services or treatment. The longer the wait time, the more likely a patient will exhibit disruptive behavior. The emergency department is a prime example of this. Emergency department workers have high exposure to verbal and physical aggression. According to The Permanente Journal, 75 to 100 percent of emergency department workers reported being verbally abused, and 67 percent said they were physically abused.
The best way to minimize this type of violence is to decrease wait times. One way to do so is by using people counting analytics, which can count the number of people in a lobby and send an alert if another staff member is needed. HIPPA compliant sound detection implemented with surveillance cameras enables staff to be proactive. The sound detection analytic can detect aggression in a person’s voice, and it’ll send an alert to staff before a situation escalates.
Free movement in healthcare settings increasing need for security protocols
Healthcare facilities are typically open and inviting environments. People, for example, can usually enter and walk through hospitals without being questioned. Given this type of public access, it’s imperative facilities maintain a high level of security to protect medicine, personnel, and patients and their medical records.
Some safety precautions healthcare facilities can take to protect from public access include:
- Stationing staff in each wing to check IDs and ask visitors why they’re visiting
- Installing network door controllers to manage who enters or leaves restricted areas
- Using video and two-way audio so personnel can communicate with people on the other side of a door and verify them before they enter a room
As you can see, there are many ways to minimize the risk of unwanted roaming.
Work aggression training on the rise
Eighty-five percent of healthcare facilities have implemented aggressive behavior training, according to a recent Hospital Security Survey conducted by Health Facilities Management and the American Society for Healthcare Engineering. And while this won’t prevent every incident from occurring, it can stop many.
Violence prevention training is an effective way to ensure hospital staff has the skills to handle aggressive behavior. For example, when staff is trained to mitigate situations, they can better recognize the warning signs of violent conduct. In turn, they have a better chance of preventing violent situations or minimizing damage before it escalates by staying calm and communicating with their colleagues.
Some states have even passed laws that require healthcare facilities to develop plans to protect staff. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has also created a free PDF, “Guidelines for Preventing Workplace Violence for Health Care & Social Service Workers,” that staff can use in conjunction with training. This is a good start, but hospitals should also implement in-person training as well.
High pressure areas like psychiatric wards require specialized care
People with mental health issues may easily get stressed and overwhelmed in a hospital environment, especially if they’ve been there for a long period. In turn, they may lash out at staff. Statistics from the Korean Society of Nursing Science show 100 percent of nurses in psychiatric settings have been verbally abused, and 50 to 85 percent of those nurses have also experienced physical aggression.
The best way to prevent violence among patients with mental illnesses is to implement strong security measures. A few include:
- Hiring specially trained psychiatric nurses to work with these patients
- Installing network door controllers, which can automatically alert staff and lock doors when a patient is trying to leave his or her room
- Investing in sound detection, which can notify staff if a patient’s voice has an aggressive tone or glass breaks so they can mitigate the situation before it escalates
Facilities should take the highest measure of security possible to ensure all parties are safe.
Low staffing in healthcare facilities
Nurses work very hard, and they’re constantly multitasking during long shifts.
When hospitals are short-staffed, they may not have time to consistently check on patients; it might only be possible for nurses to visit them to provide medication or food. Because of this, patients might feel neglected and aggressively act out for attention.
Security technology can assist hospitals with staffing shortages by helping improve how efficiently employees work. For example, surveillance systems with sound detection alert staff when it detects aggressive behavior.
Along with sound detection, employees can situate a Network Door Station next to a patient’s bed so they can easily communicate with staff. To do so, patients simply press a button. This solution can improve workflow and give patients an additional sense of security in knowing that help is only a button-press away.
Although it’s impossible to anticipate and prevent all incidents of violence, being proactive can help reduce it. Total security solutions, in conjunction with aggressive behavior education and staff training, are responsible and effective ways to reduce (and at best, prevent) workplace aggression and protect the safety and security of patients and staff.
Would you like to learn more about how violence and aggression is affecting healthcare workplaces and ways to curb it? Learn more in my latest article published in Security Today, “Curbing the Violence.”