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Contributed Content: Nurses are Always There for Us. Here’s What We Must Do for Them.

By Mary Beth Kingston  
   June 12, 2024

CNOs are responsible for making sure their nurses stay safe and healthy at work, both mentally and physically. 

Editor's note: Mary Beth Kingston is Chief Nursing Officer for Advocate Health, the third-largest non-profit health system in the country.

Being a nurse requires so many skills.

They are patient and understanding when we’re suffering and recovering. They are experts, knowing the latest medical advances and care techniques. They are always available and ready when we need them the most.

They also need to be safe.

And yet nurses and health care workers are among the professionals most likely to face violence on the job in America.

According to the American Hospital Association, 44% of nurses have been subject to physical violence, and 68% reported verbal abuse. The Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that health care workers are five times more likely than others to be physically attacked on the job.

As the Chief Nursing Officer for one of the nation’s largest health systems, I’ve unfortunately heard these stories frequently from the nurses who have experienced these traumas. Somehow, because they’re so committed to caring for people, many victims of this violence press on.

Health care leaders like me must continue to support them, especially at a time when our industry is recovering from the stress and staff shortages exacerbated by the pandemic. Here are three key ways.

First, we need to listen to nurses.

We’re proud of the programs we have at Advocate Health to help prevent violence and help nurses with their wellbeing. The best ideas come directly from them. When I’m rounding in our hospitals and talking to the people who care for patients every day, I make sure to ask them what they need. What is going well and what isn’t? They’re doing the work every day, so they know better than anyone.

Nurses often tell me that – like so many other workers -- they find their greatest supporters in their teammates and direct leaders. So we must keep investing in training great nurses and nursing leaders.

Second, we must prioritize patient safety and worker safety at the same time. For health care providers, safety is paramount. We spend immense amounts of time, energy and resources working to ensure patients receive the safest care possible at our hospitals and clinics.

Violence prevention and addressing violence-driven injuries should be a priority for health systems as they look to advance health equity in their communities. For example, Advocate Health has several programs that are dedicated to helping patients recover after experiencing trauma and mitigating violence-related injuries. So we’re equipped to offer this support to our teammates, too.

And while the strategies are different, we need to prioritize our workers’ safety in the same way we do with patients. Nurses who feel safe at work provide great, safe care to patients.

Third, we need to ensure high-level leaders know how important this issue is to nurses and workers on the ground. June 7 was the American Hospital Association’s Hospitals Against Violence Day, a national awareness campaign that highlighted how America’s hospitals and health systems combat violence in their workplaces and communities. This work continues every day.

Among the leaders who must prioritize this issue are federal officials, who should advance the Safety from Violence for Healthcare Employees Act – known as the SAVE Act. This legislation would give health care workers the same legal protections against assault and intimidation that flight crews and airport workers have under federal law.

This law alone won’t solve the problem of violence in health care, but it will be an important tool and powerful statement to support all the work that’s being done locally to protect our nurses and health care workers.

Through the most difficult and trying times of our lives, they come through for us and ensure our safety. We must continue to come through for them.

Editor's note: Care to share your view? HealthLeaders accepts original thought leadership articles from healthcare industry leaders in active executive roles at payer and provider organizations. These may include case studies, research, and guest editorials. We neither accept payment nor offer compensation for contributed content.

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CNOs need to listen to their nurses and invest time in training nurse leaders who can become the next support system for staff. 

Leaders should prioritize patient safety and nurse safety simultaneously. 

The SAVE Act would give healthcare workers the same legal protections against assault and intimidation that flight crews and airport workers have under federal law.

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