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Promote Hospital Staff Safety with Publicity

John Commins, for HealthLeaders Media, September 12, 2011

They are in dozens of hospitals already, and have been for years. However, the Vanderbilt program has generated a lot of news coverage for the hospital. TV and print media, supplied with a compelling angle (and most importantly for TV, a picture), wrote stories about the program, providing viewers and readers with a brief primer on the growing threat of violence in the healthcare setting.

For example, The Tennessean, one of the largest newspapers in the Volunteer State, described a patient who “jerks a metal vent out of a wall, pounds it into a crude shank and brandishes it threateningly. He’s not in a prison. He’s in a hospital emergency room.”

The Tennessean notes that the incident happened at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, but that the hospital “has no monopoly on ER violence. Workplace assaults and threats have risen to the point that Middle Tennessee hospitals are ramping up security measures and teaching ER workers de-escalation techniques. The increased focus on prevention comes after a national organization representing ER workers exposed the hidden scabs behind nurses’ uniforms.”

Of course, this is not good publicity in the traditional sense. Nobody wants their hospital to be described using words usually reserved for the crime blotter or a prison movie. It’s not the warm-and-fuzzy opening of a new maternity ward or a breakthrough, life-saving, high-tech gizmo. And be prepared for TV shots of scrubs-clad hospital employees practicing arm bars and headlocks. That is inevitable – TV needs pictures.

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