Reports of medical staff suffering personal injury after being attacked by patients or patient’s visitors are on the rise. Recent cases of extreme violence such as one involving a 68 year old patient attacking nurses with a metallic bar that he pulled from a bed (see video) or the death of a prominent cardiologist at a Boston Hospital who was shot by a gunman last month have led hospitals to revisit their security policy.
Shootings in hospitals are not that common but violence against hospital staff is happening daily. Workers are being kicked, scratched, punched beaten and even sexually assaulted by patients. Emergency room and psychiatric nurses and other workers dealing with elderly patients are the most at risk of being assaulted and injured by a patient. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics hospital workers are five time more likely to be assaulted on their jobs than workers in other industries. Last year a study entitled “Incidence and Cost of Nurse Workplace Violence Perpetrated by Hospital Patients or Patient Visitors” and published by the Journal of Emergency Nursing indicates that in the last year 76% of nurses experienced violence (verbal abuse by patients, 54.2%; physical abuse by patients, 29.9%; verbal abuse by visitors, 32.9%; and physical abuse by visitors, 3.5%). Perpetrators were primarily white male patients, aged 26 to 35 years, who were confused or influenced by alcohol or drugs.
Hospitals have started to initiate various programs to train their staff on how to recognize and deescalate potentially violent situations but too little is being done to stop the assaults. According to a recent article, Epidemic of Violence against Health Care Workers Plagues Hospitals published in Scientific American, hospital administrators and the judicial system do little to prevent assaults by patients. The cost of violence prevention is small, however, when compared to the amount that hospitals lose in worker-compensation claims every year and in time off due to injury—roughly a third of which is patient-inflicted, according to OSHA statistics.