We Need to Protect Our Hospitals

Ever since the COVID-19 pandemic, workplace violence in hospitals and medical facilities has been on the increase. Healthcare staff, nurses, and doctors are dealing with more physical and verbal attacks – far more than before the pandemic. In Canada, the United States, and Australia, hospital violence is now considered a pandemic in and of itself.

According to the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), approximately two million hospital workers are victims of workplace violence in medical facilities each year. In 2020, Campus Safety Magazine reported that the assault rate at U.S. hospitals had increased more than 23 percent since the start of the pandemic. 

Before the pandemic, this assault rate was about eleven incidents of violence per one hundred beds. It now stands at 14.2 incidents per one hundred beds.

With the pandemic fading, many hospital administrators assumed – or hoped – violence in their facilities would subside. Unfortunately, it has not. While data for 2022 will not be available until next year, in 2021 many hospitals and medical facilities reported increases in workplace violence. In 2021, one large hospital in Michigan, for instance, recorded 650 reported assaults on its employees, which was 100 more than the year before.

So, what can hospitals and medical facility administrators do about this increasingly volatile atmosphere in their centers?

One of the steps many are taking is to reduce the number of people going to their medical facilities. A lesson learned during the pandemic is that virtual doctor’s appointments can prove particularly useful. 

However, virtual appointments do have their limitations. Eventually, most patients must see a medical practitioner. Aware of this reality, medical facility administrators are taking some other steps, including:

Access Controls

Many hospitals had some form of access controls in place long before the pandemic. But since then, and with the rise of workplace violence, this has expanded considerably. While the old systems typically required medical staff to key in a code, most are now touchless. They use QR codes on badges to open and shut doors, allowing entry from one building area to another. But they do much more. They help administrators know where their staff is at any time.  Further, the system can validate who entered what area, at what time, on what day, and when they left.

Surveillance and Screening

Just as access control systems have been in place in hospitals for many years, so have closed-circuit cameras and surveillance systems. But like access control systems, their use has expanded since the pandemic. These systems allow security personnel to screen everyone entering the hospital, whether they be staff, patients, or vendors. These systems help protect against unauthorized access to certain areas of the facility, for instance, where drugs are stored, or patient and medical facility files are kept. Outside the hospital, they monitor parking areas, allow security personnel to remotely communicate with those outside the facility, detect a possible forced entry, and identify false alarms. 

Armed Guards

A somewhat controversial step is to install armed guards in hospitals. In Florida, several hospitals now have armed guards after a 2016 shooting left a patient and her caregiver dead.

A St. Louis hospital in 2018 already had armed guards.  This allowed them to quickly address a situation when a man carrying two knives broke into a treatment room and threatened the patient and staff. The man was shot and killed; neither the patient nor the staff was injured in this incident.

On October 24, 2022, a Texas man on parole was granted permission to visit his girlfriend in the hospital. Once in the hospital, the man told his girlfriend, “Whoever comes into the room today is going to die.” Two people were shot and killed as they entered the room. What prevented this from becoming a shooting disaster was that a police officer was in the hospital and heard the gunshots. He responded immediately and shot the shooter.

“Hospitals can be dangerous places,” says Johnathan Tal, CEO of TAL Global. “In a perfect world, security guards with handguns would not be needed. But we are not living in a perfect world and never will be. While many hospitals are reluctant to have armed security guards, not only can they help in an emergency, but just having armed guards in the hospital can be a life-saving deterrent.”

Role of a Risk Assessment

While all of these steps are undoubtedly helpful and should be able to reduce workplace violence in medical facilities, before any of them are implemented, a professional risk assessment should be conducted. A risk assessment looks for security risks, potential hazards, and vulnerabilities in a medical facility. With this information from a credible and reliable professional, administrators can take effective steps to help protect their facilities.

We say effective because security measures in medical facilities are often taken on a “trial and error basis.” Hospitals will try this device or develop a system that they hope will ensure security, only to find they do not produce the results desired.

A professionally conducted risk assessment eliminates trial and error security measures, helping to eliminate vulnerabilities, protect staff, patients, and all those using your medical center.

Sidebar: Types of Abuse Nurses Experience in Hospitals

According to a University of Iowa Injury Prevention Research Center Study, the most common types of abuse nurses most experience in a hospital setting are the following:

  •   Verbal abuse.  Sixty-two percent report experiencing verbal abuse such as swearing, shouting, or cursing.
  •   Physical abuse. Twenty-eight percent report being pushed or hit while working.

·   Lethal weapons.  While the use of lethal weapons in a hospital setting is still rare, if it does occur, it usually occurs at night.

Prepared by TAL Global Staff

© TAL Global, 2019