At hospitals here in New Mexico and across the country, nurses face workplace dangers every day, from lifting heavy patients to contact with contaminants. They’re also at risk of being the victims of violence.
We all recently saw the disturbing video of a Utah nurse who was violently arrested by police when she refused to take a blood sample from an unconscious patient. The perpetrators of violence can be patients, visitors and even other medical professionals. This June, a disgruntled New York City physician fatally shot another doctor and injured several others at the hospital where he worked before he shot himself to death.
The problem of violence against hospital personnel seems to be getting worse. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), from 2011 to 2013, close to three-quarters of all workplace assaults happened in health care facilities. In 2015, according to other government statistics, the rate of hospital workers injured was five times that for all private industries.
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data shows that the rate of hospital employees intentionally injured on the job at the hands of another person is significantly higher than the rate across all private industries. In 2015, the most recent year available, there were 8.5 cases of injuries per 10,000 full-time hospital workers, versus 1.7 cases for all private industries.
Some of this violence is perpetrated by prisoners who are supposed to be guarded while in the hospital by correctional officers. Angry or distraught family members of patients, mentally ill people as well as people under the influence of drugs and alcohol can also present a danger. Some nurses have suffered sexual assaults.
While dealing with physical aggression and violence has long been viewed by hospitals as part of the job of being on the front lines. However, nursing advocates are increasingly working for legislation and other changes to help protect them. These include greater OSHA regulation, better staffing, stronger legal penalties for patients who attack hospital personnel and more training to help nurses learn to deescalate situations and spot signs that a patient could be violent.
Hospital workers have the right to expect their employers to provide adequate safety measures to help protect them from becoming the victims of violence. When a nurse or other medical professional is injured or killed at work, family members can and should determine what type of legal recourse they have.
Source: Peoria Journal-Star, “As hospital violence grows, nurses seek reforms,” Kate Thayer and Hannah Leone, Aug. 19, 2017