Violence Erupts In Healthcare Setting

On November 2, 2014, a Minnesota patient detached a metal bar from his hospital bed and used it to attack four nurses; one nurse suffered a collapsed lung, another broke her wrist, and the others had cuts and bruises . . . as well as bad memories of the night.

While some people might view the frightening event as an oddity, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that healthcare workers are some of the most likely workers to be attacked while on the job. According to OSHA, two out of three (on-the-job) physical assaults happen in the medical care and social service industries, and the numbers are going up. A survey underwritten by the Foundation of the International Association for Healthcare Security and Safety (IAHSS) found that the number of crimes increased by nearly 37 percent in just two years, from just under 15,000 in 2010 to more than 20,500 in 2012. Reported crimes included simple assault, larceny and theft, vandalism, rape, sexual assault and homicide. Even more disturbing than this increased number of violent crimes in healthcare settings is the likelihood that many incidents are not reported – at least one half, according to U.S. Department of Justice estimates.

Experts cite a number of factors involved in the increased incidence of violent outbreaks in health care settings, including an increase in drug and alcohol abuse, a lack of adequate care for psychiatric patients, and the prevalence of handguns. Long waits and low staffing levels can result in frustration and agitation. And the failure of medical facilities themselves to implement adequate security procedures and provide employee training is seen as contributing to the potential for violent acts.

OSHA published “Guidelines for Preventing Workplace Violence for Health Care & Social Service Workers,” which, among many other things, recommends the following:

  1. Every healthcare workplace, large or small, needs a violence prevention plan.
  2. Periodic inspections of the workplace should be made to identify hazards, conditions, operations and situations that could lead to violence.
  3. Some of the environmental controls to be considered are: alarm systems, panic buttons and hand-held alarms; metal detectors; closed-circuit video recordings; employee “safe rooms”; two exits in counseling or patient care rooms; separate and lockable bathrooms for staff; and visitor restrictions for patients with a history of violence or gang activity.
  4. All staff, including supervisors and managers, should be receiving training in how to identify potential security hazards, including early recognition of warning signs; behavior control and restraints; self-protection; and reporting procedures.
  5. Employees should be encouraged to report incidents, including abuse, verbal attacks, pushing, shouting and other acts of aggression. They should not be viewed as weak or incompetent and must not be retaliated against.

It is unclear whether or not any of the above steps could have prevented the recent attack on the Minnesota nurses. Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, U.S. employers are responsible for providing safe and healthful workplaces for their employees. OSHA refers to the concept of “universal precautions for violence”— that violence should be expected but can be avoided or mitigated through preparation.

If you are a healthcare worker who has been injured through the negligence of your employer to assess and mitigate the potential for violence against you, if you have been retaliated against for reporting a violent incident, or if you have otherwise been hurt on the job, contact the Louthian Law Firm at (803) 454-1200. You’ll get reasoned advice from seasoned professionals.