By Chris Ciabarra
Hospitals are supposed to be places where people go to be made well, and receive the care and treatment they need.
As anyone who works in the healthcare sector knows, however, hospitals are also stressful places where tempers can flare and tensions often spill over into violence.
Shockingly, healthcare employees are five times more likely to experience workplace violence than workers in other sectors, with an alarming 63% rise in violent attacks against medical professionals between 2011 and 2018. Emergency rooms are particularly prone to unrest, with over 80% of emergency physicians reporting increasing violence in their departments.
Perhaps it’s no surprise, then, that healthcare workers are about 50% more likely than workers in other industries to consider leaving their jobs. To prevent worker shortages and ensure world-class care for patients, healthcare providers need to get serious about ending the epidemic of workplace violence — and that starts with getting serious about security.
What causes the violence?
To make hospitals safer for everyone, we need to start by considering the reasons they’re becoming so dangerous. It’s partly the populations that hospitals serve: necessarily, the people who wind up in hospitals are often vulnerable populations going through extremely stressful periods of their lives.
That might include homeless people, or people struggling with drug addiction or mental health challenges, many of whom grapple with the constant threat of violence, and carry makeshift weapons such as rebar, knives, hammers, or crowbars that they have found necessary for survival on the streets. Relevantly, researchers have found that hospitals with a high proportion of psychiatric patients confiscate a far greater amount of weapons than those without a psychiatric unit.
And of course, not all hospital violence is caused by patients struggling with homelessness, addiction, or mental health problems. In one tragic recent case, a patient in Tulsa shot and killed his doctor after suffering pain following a back operation. In other cases, anxieties surrounding COVID-19 have led to stressed-out patients subjecting healthcare workers to verbal and physical abuse.
The reality is that today’s hospitals are on the front lines of many of the social, economic, and cultural challenges confronting our society, and often that makes them places where tensions spill over into violence. Trying to resolve the underlying causes of violence is beyond the abilities of healthcare providers — so the question becomes, how can we do more to keep patients and healthcare workers safe from harm?