Let's Raise Public Awareness of Hospital Violence

John Commins, June 7, 2010

Hospitals have a lot to fret over right now. Amid staffing shortages, enhanced competition, aggressive whistleblower suits, new infections cropping up, and abrupt cuts in reimbursements, it's small wonder that hospital violence has not gotten the attention it deserves.

Thankfully, this appears to be changing. The Joint Commission last week issued a well-timed Sentinel Event Alert on violence in the healthcare setting and noted that a "significant increases in reports of assault, rape, and homicide had occurred, with the greatest number of reports in the last three years."

My colleague at HealthLeaders Media, Cheryl Clark, wrote a comprehensive review of the report. For the sake of time I'll refer you to her story.

The opening paragraph of the JC report, however, is worth repeating. It states: "Once considered safe havens, healthcare institutions today are confronting steadily increasing rates of crime, including violent crimes such as assault, rape and homicide. As criminal activity spills over from the streets onto the campuses and through the doors, providing for the safety and security of all patients, visitors and staff within the walls of a healthcare institution, as well as on the grounds, requires increasing vigilant attention and action by safety and security personnel as well as all healthcare staff and providers."

Hospital violence is a theme that I have touched upon recently, both in this HR column and in our flagship HealthLeaders magazine, because I've been reading and hearing with alarming regularity about the problem. It's unnerving to read the words "assault, rape and homicide" used to describe events inside a "hospital."

As I wrote in an earlier column, Bureau of Labor Statistics data show that for every 10,000 hospital workers, eight workplace assaults resulted in missed work days. By comparison, in the overall private sector, only 1.7 workplace assaults resulted in missed work for every 10,000 workers.

Don't despair—regardless of the grim statistics. The cause is not hopeless, and I believe this disturbing trend can be reversed starting with a combination of employee training and public awareness. The good news is you don't need a national, top-down mandate, or a special report–however timely and welcomed–from The Joint Commission to determine the potential for violence in your hospital.

It starts with a workplace assessment to identify acts of violence and threats of violence at your hospital. One critical component of that assessment includes asking for–and listening to–the concerns of your clinical staff. These are smart, veteran professionals who–though they may not be experts in security--more than likely have a very realistic sense of the potential for violence in their workplace. They can help identify the real threats, and avoid the rabbit holes that waste time, energy, and morale. Your assessment might include observing first-hand nights and weekend shifts in the ED. To my knowledge, hospital violence rarely occurs in the C-Suite.

John Commins

John Commins is a senior editor at HealthLeaders Media.

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