Violence against nurses by patients and family members has always existed, but lately it’s been on the rise.
Roberta Young, Vice President of Nursing and Clinical Services at Sanford Fargo, and Tim Vangerud, Safety and Security Director at Sanford Fargo gave their insight to the issue.
“Nationwide, hospitals report violence from patients because of the increase in drug and alcohol abuse,” Young said. She continued to say that this is one of the biggest factors in the hospital environment.
She also stated that hospitals everywhere have been working towards improving on how staff handle verbal and physical altercations.
Vangerud then highlighted the training that the security department at Sanford goes through to defend, deescalate and prevent further violence within the hospital. The course includes both a computer and a classroom aspect.
The hospital takes an approach with a methodology and has a workplace violence committee to focus on employee health, as well as a panic button a staff member can press if they need immediate assistance in a room. The panic button alerts all other healthcare professionals in the immediate vicinity, the security branch of the hospital and searches on certain patients in the ER according to Young.
Mostly, it’s a sense of their surroundings and assessing potential risk. To do this, Young takes into account if visitors escalate a situation, if the person is there of their own free will and a standard assessment all patients receive. The police department works closely with them to ensure a safe working environment.
The hospital has a zero tolerance policy for violence, which includes verbal threats. Hospital employees can hang up the phone on a caller who is agitated and is taking it out on that employee. The hospital reserves the write to remove any visitor from its grounds on account of violent speech or behavior according to Vangerud.
“We work with staff that want to be nice and accommodating,” Young said. “They don’t have to be verbally abused. They can tell people that’s not appropriate. They know they can set a boundary here and end the conversation if it’s going too far.”
Vangerud also uses two programs: CALM and SAFER. They’re designed to maintain calm behavior by meeting people’s needs. SAFER focuses more on taking potential weapons out of the room, listening and being empathetic.
The standards are set to work with any patient. High risk areas of the hospital include the ICU, detoxification center and behavioral health area. There is extra training for some of those areas.
“It doesn’t matter what patient or where, if they’re acting out we’re going to make sure our staff is safe. The rule of thumb is, we need to pay attention to our surrounding; don’t allow yourself to be distracted,” Vangerud said.
Trish Strom, Assistant Professor of Practice in the School of Nursing, also weighed in on the issue.
Strom spoke about the “Broken Window Syndrome,” which is used by the police. If the police see a broken window but nobody reports a crime, they won’t bother to inquire.
Similarly, if a healthcare professional experiences a minor form of violence, like verbal harassment, they might not see it as a big deal or bother to report that event. However, without reporting it, the problem will continue to grow.
This is one of the many things Strom teaches her students, along with knowing when to remove yourself from a situation and using the buddy system when necessary.
Hospitals across the nation struggle with finding a balance between caring for their patients and ensuring the safety of their staff.