Although we have discussed this topic in some of our earlier blog posts, many people are unaware that medical facilities – those established to care for people – frequently experience different forms of workplace violence. This includes threats and acts of violence between workers, but most violence experienced in medical facilities is between patients, their families, or outsiders against medical personnel.
In 2019, a study by the American Journal of Nursing reported that 25 percent of nurses in the U.S. have reported being assaulted by patients or patients’ families. And the American Journal of Managed Care reports that most physicians and nurses in the United States report having been the victims of workplace violence at least once in their careers.
The pandemic has only made the situation worse. The Lancet, a U.K. medical journal, reported that “hundreds of incidents of workplace violence and harassment [in medical settings] have been recorded since the pandemic began, and these are likely to be just the tip of the iceberg.”
Complicating matters in the U.S. is that politics now plays a critical role in the pandemic – and medical workplace violence. According to BMJ, a 180-year-old medical journal, “politicians today are career professionals savvy in their art of political science,” even if their views are contrary to the public good. This, along with the tensions and fears of the pandemic and misinformation, has caught medical personnel in the crosshairs, often resulting in workplace violence.
So, what can we do about this? If a physician or nurse finds themselves in a potentially dangerous confrontational situation or attempts to stop workplace violenc, at TAL Global, we suggest the following:
- Use clear, calm verbal communication.
- Look at the patient, their family, or the person causing the problem directly; maintain good eye contact.
- Take the time to listen. Hospitals in many parts of the country are packed with COVID patients, so taking the time to listen to someone who appears to be confrontational can be difficult. However, just the act of listening can help calm the situation and build trust.
- Display calm body language. In a confrontational situation, body language can speak louder than words, e.g. arms not crossed, face relaxed.
- Approach the confrontational person with respect. Always call them Mr. or Ms.
- Do not use medical terminology. If a patient is in the ICU, for instance, say they are in the intensive care unit. Some people may not know what an ICU is, further fostering tensions.
- If someone insists on seeing another person in the hospital, but that is not possible, set clear limits. Give them options. They can remain here or there, but they cannot see the patient or person they are inquiring about at this time.
- Try to speak with the confrontational person in a quieter area of the medical facility, preferably one that has natural light. These areas can be more calming.
Preventing Workplace Violence
In addition to teaching these de-escalation tactics, hospital administrators must take steps to help prevent confrontational situations from arising in the first place. Studies indicate that many hospitals and other medical facilities have several weaknesses when it comes to preventing workplace violence in their facilities. Although not all such incidents can be prevented, the risk certainly can be minimized.
For example, medical staff and others working in the facility often have little training in dealing with a confrontational person or any type of violence. What’s more, the facility itself may have too many pores – openings where an aggressive or violent person could find their way into the building.
To solve these issues, typically what is needed is a risk assessment that involves several components. Three of the most important strategies are the following:
- Address the “pores.” Reducing the number of ways someone can enter or exit the building can allow security personnel to better monitor who is in the facility.
- Develop a training program for all staffers: doctors, nurses, hospital workers, and maintenance personnel. Everyone must be taught violence prevention and mitigation strategies.
Call in experts in risk assessments, especially those firms experienced with the risks and demands of medical facilities. Some security consulting firms specialize in securing hospitals and medical facilities. Working with one of these firms will help administrators reduce violence in their facilities. This, in turn, can save a considerable amount of time and money.
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