ED Nurses Still Wear a Bullseye for Workplace Abuse

John Commins, November 14, 2011


There isn't much good news in the latest nationwide survey of workplace violence against emergency department nurses. Despite the media attention generated by the 2009 survey, which showed that emergency nurses rank with cops and prison guards when it comes to on-the-job verbal and physical abuse, and the needle hasn't moved in the last two years.

The latest results from the ongoing Emergency Department Violence Surveillance Study of 7,169 emergency nurses nationwide found that 53% of nurses reported experiencing verbal abuse and 13% reported experiencing physical violence over any seven-day period in 2010. Those results are almost identical to those in the 2009 survey. 

"The only thing good I see coming out of this is that we continue to let people know that this is an issue. Public awareness is important because it's the public who is committing the violence," says AnnMarie Papa, RN, president of the Emergency Nurses Association, which compiles the survey and report.

What's frustrating is that although the number of zero -tolerance policies is up, Papa says, "the violence in those facilities with zero-tolerance policies is just a little down from what it was the two years ago when we last did the study."

Here are some other notable findings:

  • Of all the nurses surveyed who indicated experiencing physical assault, 48% said they were grabbed or pulled.
  • The most common forms of verbal abuse were yelling or swearing, with 89% of nurses reporting those forms of abuse.
  • Patients committed 98% of the physical violence and 92% of the verbal abuse.
  •  The patient's room was the most dangerous place for an emergency nurse, with 82% of physical assaults occurring there. 
  • More than half —56% —of patients who physically assaulted nurses were drunk, 47% were on drugs, and 45% were psychiatric patients.
John Commins

John Commins is a senior editor at HealthLeaders Media.

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