It’s Our Duty to Unite Against Workplace Violence

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May 19, 2022 

John Hawkins, president/CEO, Texas Hospital Association
Originally published by the Houston Medical Journal

Health care workers have dealt with endless challenges in recent years, especially after two years of COVID-19 patient care and the resulting burnout and fatigue. As hospitals and health systems face severe staffing shortages, the burden on those workers remaining grows more profound. Amid the mounting pressure and strain, health care workers must contend with, one concern is entirely preventable and must be addressed in a comprehensive and meaningful way. Workplace violence simply cannot be tolerated to any degree within a health care setting. With last month designated as Workplace Violence Awareness Month and June 3 called out by the American Hospital Association as Hospitals Against Violence day, now is the time to highlight what we as organizations and individuals must do to ensure safe, secure work environments for our dedicated health care workforce.

The Texas hospital industry has come out in full support of health care professionals, who should be able to work in healthy environments free of abusive behavior, the threat of injury, and assault. Texas hospitals stand united on this critical issue that affects not just the workers but the patients they care for and the communities they serve. We recognize that health care leaders have a personal responsibility to themselves and their profession to create a culture where violence is not tolerated. If quality care is to be provided to patients, health care personnel must have a safe work environment and respectful treatment.

Because hospitals and health systems receive anyone in need of care, they are unfortunately vulnerable to instances of violence and intimidation. While this issue is not new, it has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, with frontline personnel assuming responsibility for the enforcement of pandemic-related safety measures such as masking and visitor limitations. About 44% of nurses report experiencing physical violence, and 68% report experiencing verbal abuse during the pandemic. Health care workers account for roughly three-quarters of violence-related workplace injuries and illnesses, and hospital workers are six times more likely to encounter violence on the job than private-sector workers, according to AHA’s American Organization for Nursing Leadership. These statistics are backed up by numerous media reports of nurses and other personnel being grabbed, kicked, bruised, and threatened. Every instance of violence or intimidation against health care professionals serving their communities is unacceptable. Period.

Violence against workers in health care settings affects patient care. Beyond the physical and emotional harm inflicted on the victim, it becomes more difficult for workers to perform their critical duties and provide quality patient care. Distractions such as disruptive patients and visitors, fear for personal safety, or trauma from previous episodes of violence make it much more challenging to provide attentive care to patients. Past studies have shown reduced patient satisfaction, employee productivity, and increased potential for adverse medical events stemming from episodes of workplace violence.

THA and other health care partners are tackling this pervasive issue by raising awareness and demonstrating a united front against all manners of workplace violence. At the federal level, AHA recently issued a letter urging the U.S. Department of Justice to support legislation that would protect health care workers, similar to how airline employees and flight crews were granted protection under federal law in 2021. At the local level, hospitals should devise a comprehensive response program to address the health and safety of their workers and provide long-term support for those who have experienced threatening behavior or violence. The AHA has developed a framework to guide hospitals and health systems in addressing violence in the workplace under the tenets of education, accountability, and data. It involves creating a culture of safety, mitigating risks, forming violence intervention strategies, and providing trauma support.

THA endorses the collaborative efforts of health care organizations to develop systems for reporting and collecting data on workplace violence to promote an organization reflective of a culture of safety. We ask communities across the state to now support efforts to minimize violence in all Texas hospitals. Health care workers need to know that we are there for them the way they are there for us.