More on Quality and Safety

Protecting workers against violence is worth the cost

As accounts of violence against healthcare workers continue, a report by the Emergency Nurses Association (ENA) released late last year underscores the evolving nature of the problem and possible inroads to curtailing it.

Based on an ongoing survey of more than 7,000 emergency room nurses nationwide, ENA’s report on violence against nurses found that while the rates of physical and verbal abuse remain constant, those hospitals with a higher commitment to safety and reporting policies showed gains in the fight to eliminate or at least reduce such violence. Nine in 10 nurses reporting that they did not experience any violence in the seven days prior to participating in the survey worked at facilities with reporting policies.

“Zero tolerance policy is something that has shown to be the most beneficial,” said AnnMarie Papa, immediate past-president of ENA. “The issue is not just the existence of the policy, but the actual implementation and putting the words into action.”

As hospitals and healthcare facilities continue to focus on cutting costs, putting out money for security measures is a challenge with which these institutions struggle said Christina Thielst, a California-based consultant who is a former hospital chief operating officer, risk manager and safety officer.

“The pressures are to reduce costs in hospitals and that goes for security, it goes for lab techs, it goes for administrative staff, it goes for all sorts of stuff,” she said. “People don’t want to put money into security and than unfortunately something happens and then they wind up spending more money after the fact than if they had put something in place ahead of time.”

Southeast Florida’s Martin Health System didn’t want to wait for a serious situation to happen at its facilities. The system has spent the last three years instituting measures to enhance safety and security and over the next three to five years will continue to build on the successes they’ve had so far said Sharon Andre, Martin Health’s assistant vice president and chief safety officer.

“At Martin Health, the primary drivers for enhancing workplace safety and security measures were to prevent or minimize situations of workplace violence and to reduce theft,” she said. “… we wanted to be proactive in our efforts to maintain a safe environment for our patients and staff.”

To that end, Martin Health included in its budget funding for security officer staffing and capital expenses such as security cameras, alarm systems, information technology systems and facility-wide re-keying. The system has also offered training and drills to employees.

Over the last three years, these measures have resulted in no increases in workplace violence incidences and a decrease of more than 70 percent in incidences of theft, Andre said, and patients, families, visitors and employees have responded positively.

“We feel as an organization that examples such as these demonstrate the success of the programs implemented,” she said. “We will continue to monitor industry trends and identify ways that we can enhance safety and security at Martin Health System.”

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