When one pandemic winds down, another picks up steam
Hospitals across the country are starting to deal with a new pandemic – violence against healthcare workers.
Recently hospitals have had to go into lockdown and healthcare workers – celebrated and deemed essential the last few years – are now being physically attacked by patients & visitors. This has led to administrators and lawmakers calling for legislation reform to protect healthcare workers from violence and assault.
One example that may bubble to the surface in the coming weeks is an increased tension with continued mask and COVID-19-related policies within hospitals, while states and localities drop mask mandates.
While many think that these incidents are isolated, a repeated pattern of dealing with verbal abuse can impact the care that clinicians and nurses can provide. A 2012 Joint Commission report highlighted how victimized nurses experienced decreased self-confidence and competence, potentially influencing the quality of nursing care provided and subsequently patient care outcomes.
In the pandemic, the extra burden of care has fallen on hospital employees, often with staff taking on additional responsibilities and seeing more patients, leaving less time to converse directly with families and visitors. With an ongoing healthcare worker shortage, exacerbated by burnout which has shown that less than 1/3 of nurses intend to stay in direct patient care, health systems need to understand that the shortage will only grow if they aren’t prepared to provide a safe workplace for staff.
As part of this, hospital leaders should continue to monitor departments and areas where staff is being over-burdened and make plans to provide more staffing resources, which will cut down on stress and open communication lines to prevent further escalation of issues. Employees should be encouraged to report incidents of violence rather than assuming it’s something they signed up for as part of their job.
Health systems and hospitals should use this time to re-examine their crisis playbooks to ensure they have the right procedures in place to prioritize training staff on how to handle these situations. Consideration should be made on which departments and employees may be more prone to encountering physical violence compared to those who may only encounter verbal violence. Providing training specifically targeted at de-escalating physical and/or verbal violence will help employees properly identify a situation that may escalate.
It’s important for health system leaders to bring in their communications and human resources teams to assure that messaging is accurate and aligned – internally as trainings, procedures, and new policies are announced, but also externally to prospective workers to communicate the organization’s commitment in creating a safe work environment for everyone.
As healthcare leaders navigate a continued worker shortage and pandemic, prioritizing the safety of its workers is one of the most important things that systems and hospitals can do.