In February, the Tennessee Nurses Association Introduced a new piece of legislature, one which healthcare providers hope will raise awareness about rates of workplace assault against nurses, according to WKRN. The law, which would be a provision to the Nurse Practice Act, allows Advanced Practice Nurses (APNs) to treat patients independently without a physician’s oversight and increases access to nursing staff in underserved, rural areas. But the law also looks to address a long-standing issue in the healthcare industry, requiring hospitals to better prevent physical assault against nurses, develop stronger systems for reporting sexual assault, and prosecute offenders to the fullest extent of the law.
Nurses face higher-rates of workplace assault than workers in nearly any other sector of the workforce. Healthcare workers make up just 9% of the national workforce, but experience nearly as many violent injuries as all other industries combined, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. 71% of nurses report being sexually harassed by patients, and patient-on-staff violence accounts for 97% of all assaults in the healthcare sector. The Tennessee Nurses Association reports that 1 in 4 nurses are assaulted at some point in their careers. Unfortunately, there’s a high probability that these statistics are woefully underreported, due to stigma around coming forward or a general notion that these incidents are all just “part of the job.”
Tina Gerardi, director of the the Tennessee Nursing Association, reported that a 61-year old patient was charged with sexual battery of a nurse in the state just two days before the legislative session convened, and the organization intended to do everything possible to protect healthcare workers moving forward, as per WKRN. “Mainly it’s awareness and teaching nurses how to protect themselves,” Gerardi said. Another Advanced Practice Nurse, Bobby Stewart, reiterated that it’s a matter of making workers aware of volatile patients with a history of violence. “I’m hoping the hospitals will flag charts of known offenders and that when patients have no trespass or known history of violence, that they’ll make sure that we are aware,” Stewart said.
Why Nurses Face Increased Risk Of Workplace Violence
Hospitals, nursing homes, and other healthcare settings are statistically more likely to have workers experience violence than other settings, and these incidents typically start from patients, visitors, intruders, even coworkers, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Examples of healthcare workplace violence can include verbal threats or physical attacks by patients or a distraught family member who makes verbal or physical threats. Many factors can further increase risk of assault for nurses, including working with people with a history of violence or drug use, working in underserved neighborhoods, understaffing in general, lack of training or policies among staff, or a lack of means of emergency communication.
No federal law currently exists to require hospitals or healthcare facilities to implement workplace safety laws. Instead, nursing associations and other organizers in states like Tennessee have lobbied the government to take greater action on these issues. Events like “Nurses Day on the Hill” in Tennessee allow for healthcare workers to voice concerns to lawmakers, and ideally, reach a resolution on key issues at the end of several legislative sessions. Other states across the United States are taking similar steps to address workplace violence, and a new bill is being considered at the national level to improve protections.
In November, the House of Representatives passed the Workplace Violence Prevention for Health Care and Social Service Workers Act (H.R. 1309), which would, “require the Department of Labor to create an occupational safety and health standard requiring certain healthcare and social service employers to develop and implement a comprehensive plan for protecting healthcare workers, social workers and other personnel from workplace violence.” It also requires healthcare employers to investigate workplace violence incidents, provide training and education to employees exposed to workplace violence hazards or risks, and prohibit acts of discrimination or retalation for workers reporting violence, suspicious incidents, threats, or concerns, as per Congress’ website.
Improving Emergency Communication For Nurses
The causes of high rates of workplace violence in the healthcare sector are complex, but some parts of the issue, such as insufficient emergency communication, have simple solutions. A nurse safety app can help healthcare organizations engage directly with employees to provide resources, emergency assistance, and critical two way communications. In order to understand the scope of the workplace violence problem nurses face, hospitals must create a reliable system for reporting incidents. The ability to solicit need-to-know information through discreet and anonymous employee tips can be an important first step in any nurse emergency communication plan.
Encourage all workers to embrace emergency communication tools, and make it clear that there will be no retaliation or shame accompanying reports. However, even if staff are hesitant to come forward, a safety app can still boost employee engagement. Employees can use the app to speak directly to designated departments, such as security, facilities or human resources, through discreet chats. The anonymous tip technology will further enable community-members to share timely, critical information that will help your organization run smoother.
Once a hospital safety app has helped nurses improve workplace violence reporting, it also provides an incident management dashboard. Administrators can view safety timer sessions, tip submissions, text messages, emergency calls and user locations, and respond immediately.
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