It’s Time for Hospital Workers to Speak Up

Should you have a medical emergency in Cleveland, Ohio, and find yourself taken to the Cleveland Clinic’s hospital emergency room, before hospital workers can treat you, there are a few stops along the way.

Even if you are brought in on a stretcher, expect to be scanned with a metal detector. If you pass that test, security personnel will likely empty your pockets and any bag or purse you may be carrying. They are not looking for drugs or anything like that. What they are looking for are guns, bullets, knives, and pepper spray. Once you have passed these two security checks, the hospital’s doctors and nurses will begin treating you.

Most people are not aware that other major hospitals in the U.S. are taking similar steps.  However, it appears they must, to protect hospital workers.

“There is a fundamental problem in U.S. healthcare that very few people speak out about,” says Tom Mihaljevic, CEO of the Cleveland Clinic. “That’s violence against healthcare workers. Daily, literally, daily, we are exposed to violent outbursts, in particular in the emergency rooms.”

Many hospital workers say they suffer physical and verbal abuse primarily from patients disoriented because of an illness or medication. Additionally, this happens because family members are on edge and worried about their loved one.   As Mihaljevic says, this happens, and happens every day.

However, what he did not mention was that many doctors, nurses, and other hospital workers remain silent about it. They expect tensions, outbursts, verbal and even physical abuse, to be part of their job.

Furthermore, many hospital workers have what we could call their own “code of silence.” If they report an incident, according to Michelle Mahon with the labor group, National Nurses United, hospital administrators blame the incident on the hospital employee, suggesting they do not know how to do their job.

However, this code of silence may be coming to an end. For one reason, too many incidents of abuse or assaults are occurring.  According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), serious workplace violence incidents are four times more likely to occur in a healthcare setting than in a traditional workplace. Furthermore, a poll conducted by the American College of Emergency Physicians in 2018 found that nearly half of all emergency physicians reported patients had physically assaulted them.

So, what’s happening to address this threat to hospital workers?

One of the steps some hospitals are taking is to provide staff with wireless panic buttons.  Intentionally small and easy not to notice, very often these are built into staff ID badges.

Medical facilities in recent years have been on a security buying spree. Safety cameras, once only found in key areas of the hospital such as entrances, are now installed throughout the facility, including parking lots, driveways, hallways, stores, and food service areas.

And because so many incidents occur in emergency rooms, some hospitals now have plainclothes officers in the emergency room and in nearby waiting rooms. Their job is to watch for and help prevent an incident from occurring.

We have addressed this unfortunate situation in other posts.  Some steps being taken fall into the category of “security theatre,” delivering less risk protection than they appear to provide.

One of our major recommendations we make to our clients is to have a risk assessment performed.  This can help identify risks and vulnerabilities within the hospital facility and evaluate effectiveness of current strategies.

Because violence and abuse are on the upswing, one of the best things hospital administrators can do is expand their de-escalation training.   However, the challenge here is that caregivers are there to care for people, not deal with violence.  Further, due to COVID-19, in many parts of the country, there is a shortage of nurses, doctors, and other health care providers.

To address this, TAL Global works with hospitals around the country, providing trained security specialists at major hospitals.  Security is significantly enhanced; facilities are safer, and administrators are grateful that they and their staff can do what they have been hired to do: devote all of their time to caring for patients.

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© TAL Global, 2019