Nurses Experience Some of the Worst Workplace Violence in America - It's Time They Were Protected

At a Capitol Hill press conference this spring, a nurse named Helene Andrews described what happened, in 2009, after she gave a 25-year-old psychiatric patient his medication:

Without warning, the patient suddenly became viciously violent. He punched me with his full strength in my jaw, hurtling me backward onto the floor. The impact of my body crashing down shattered my left leg at the hip.I lay on my back in excruciating pain, all of the bones and soft tissues in my hip were torn and broken, only my skin held my now lifeless leg onto my body.

When Andrews returned to work after months of rehabilitation and physical therapy, she learned that nurses were not always notified which patients had violent histories. She also discovered that the patient's mother had visited the hospital before the attack, an event that could have triggered the patient's outburst.

Now a group of labor unions are demanding federal action to quell violence against healthcare workers, like the attack on Andrews. On July 12, groups including the AFL-CIO, Service Employees International Union, American Federation of Teachers, Communications Workers of America and the United Steelworkers, sent a petition to Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez.

The National Nurses Union sent its own petition the day before and explained the need for changes in a press release:

Workers in the healthcare industry face extremely high rates of workplace violence. In 2013, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimated that healthcare workers experience workplace violence at rates 5 to 12 times higher than for workers overall. And the rates are on the rise; between 2005 and 2014, rates of workplace violence incidents have increased 110% in private industry hospitals. 

These statistics illustrate, say nurses, that existing OSHA efforts have proven inadequate to address the life-threatening problem of workplace violence for registered nurses and other healthcare workers.

Both petitions call for written violence protection plans, better recordkeeping and training. According to NNU, California is about to adopt regulations that could serve as a national model. The press release quotes NNU director of health and safety Bonnie Castillo:

This petition has an expansive scope, like the proposed California regulations—so it includes general acute care hospitals, psychiatric hospitals, nursing homes and long-term care facilities, home care and other field work, mental health treatment centers, and others—everywhere healthcare workers are at risk.

While these efforts are underway, the Montana Nurses Association has kicked off a statewide campaign to make assaulting a healthcare worker or an emergency responder a felony. The Daily Inter Lake reports that MNA is sending postcards, with stories of physical and verbal assault, to local lawmakers. The Montana nurses have an ally in Senator John Tester. The Daily Inter Lake quotes him from a recent event:

“Nurses should not have to wear combat boots to go to work, but often times I know you do. Before anyone else, you see where our country’s health care is flawed, where it thrives and where it is broken.”


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