As a first responder or a medical professional in the emergency room, there’s a lot to be thinking about, mainly how to give the absolute best care to your patient. Unfortunately, that thought is now often clouded by the real risk of getting assaulted or injured while helping a patient, whether by the patient themselves or by family members in the room. With nurses being particularly vulnerable in today’s emergency rooms, most experts agree that there is a serious epidemic of violence in our nation’s emergency rooms.
Surprisingly, only 31 states in the United States consider it a felony to assault an emergency nurse. And with too many people, including ER staff, being tolerant of dangerous behavior in their workplace, the epidemic has the potential to only get worse. In order to put an end to violence towards medical professionals and first responders, the Emergency Nurses Association (ENA) is leading a campaign to help educate and train emergency room employees about recognizing and managing workplace violence, considering a “zero tolerance” environment as the best solution.
And, hopefully, this campaign will get the support from hospital leadership it needs.
Why the increase in emergency department and hospital violence?
According to the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP), The primary reason is an overall increase in violence in society. This includes:
- The increased presence of gangs, particularly in urban, inner-city settings.
- Prolonged waits for patients seeking medical care, sometimes compounded by unpleasant waiting room environments.
- Increased prevalence of drug and alcohol use in society.
- Increased numbers of private citizens arming themselves related to perceived threats of violence in their neighborhoods.
Right now, nearly 80% of all emergency physicians have “reported being targets of workplace violence in the last twelve months.” That, of course, does not include unreported incidences. These scary statistics reveal something else important to consider: If emergency room employees feel scared, they will not be able to deliver the quality of care they need to.
According to Amy Costigan, a doctor, author of Annals of Emergency Medicine, and a member of the Department of Emergency Medicine at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, nurses, doctors, and other first responders can “never provide good patient care when workers are scared for their safety.” Not only does it create a distraction, Costigan warns that it also breeds “mistrust, apathy, poor care, and disengagement with patients,” which takes away from physical and emotional care necessary in emergencies.
With more and more emergency room professionals feeling scared and anxious at work, fewer are being able to be as compassionate as they once were, which is not only detrimental to patients, but to the professionals’ ability to enjoy their work.
Costigan, in an article on Health Leaders, goes on to say, “We are taught in medical school to sit with the patient when giving bad news. You are supposed to put a hand on their shoulder. You are supposed to be close emotionally and physically. Most of the time now, I try to figure out the best place to sit for my safety. I still try to be close and emotional, but I never go alone, and sometimes, I have security outside the room. That’s not the way I want it to be.”
To help improve the workplace for emergency room professionals and first responders, the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) published an Emergency Department Violence Fact Sheet.
- Protecting emergency patients and staff from violent acts is fundamental to ensuring quality patient care.
- Nearly half (47 percent) of emergency physicians polled report being physically assaulted, with more than 60 percent of those saying it occurred in the past year.
- Emergency patients can be traumatized to the point that they leave without being seen.
- Nearly 7 in 10 emergency physicians say emergency department violence has increased in the past 5 years, with a quarter of them reporting it has increased greatly.
- ACEP encourages all states to enact legislation that establishes maximum categories for offenses and criminal penalties against individuals who commit violence against health care workers.
- Hospitals can do more by adding security, guards, cameras, security for parking lots, metal detectors, and increasing visitor screening inside hospitals, especially in emergency departments.
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