Workplace violence continues to strain hospitals

Even before the pandemic, healthcare workers accounted for nearly three quarters of non-fatal injuries from violence in the workplace. Given the level of emotion and stress experienced in hospitals, that’s not surprising. But during the pandemic, once-sporadic violent outbursts became routine, leaving many healthcare workers fearful for their safety.

According to several health systems we’ve recently spoken with, violent events haven’t waned as the number of COVID admissions has fallen. One hospital CEO recently told us, “I never would’ve imagined that security would consume so much of my time. We keep looking for a great solution, but despite a ton of effort and a lot of money, it’s barely made a dent.” The cost of additional security—more personnel, metal detectors, restricted access—can run into millions annually for the average hospital. 

Another CEO shared, “We want the hospital to be a healing environment, not feel like a prison, so we were looking for less-threatening alternatives. But those were even more expensive. Placing a canine team in the ED would run over $1M per year!” And violent episodes are not limited to hospitals, with systems reporting an increase in incidents at outpatient and clinic sites where it’s not feasible to place onsite security, given the number of smaller-scale locations
Human resource leaders report that experiencing workplace violence, either personally or through a colleague, has been a tipping point for those considering leaving the field. According to one CHRO, workers experiencing repeat violence has been increasingly common: “We recognized the importance of having someone very senior—CEO, COO, or CMO—personally reach out to staff who have been assaulted in the workplace. But there are people who we’ve now had to call two or even three times. It’s hard to even know what to say in those situations.” 

In addition to visible security and constant staff communication, providers must lobby state and federal lawmakers for legislation that requires tracking and reporting of healthcare workplace violence, and increases penalties.  The Workplace Violence Prevention for Health Care and Social Service Workers Act was passed by the US House of Representatives in 2021, and was recently introduced into the Senate, so it’s time to contact your representatives and urge them to move this bill forward.  

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