Despite how noble their profession is, healthcare workers face extreme risks at their jobs on a daily basis. Numerous incidents have been reported throughout the years about healthcare workers experiencing both verbal and physical attacks by patients and even their own co-workers. Shows like Grey’s Anatomy may have shown us a glimpse into how and why these attacks occur, albeit in a more scripted way. Unfortunately, the truth seems to be much worse than what we thought — and it comes with some serious consequences.
In 2011, the rate of non-fatal violent incidents against healthcare workers was 6.4 per 10,000 people. That figure has grown every year since then. In 2018, the estimated incidence rate came to a whopping 10.4 per 10,000 workers.
Workplace violence isn’t a term that allows for different definitions based on what suits a specific person.
Some may say that people have become too sensitive nowadays and that anything can be violence, or at least a microaggression. But we aren’t the ones who can judge what someone sees as life-threatening or traumatic. Besides, workplace violence isn’t a term that allows for different definitions based on what suits a specific person.
Plain and simple, it covers a range of incidents during which staff receives threats or abuses and is even assaulted at work or while commuting to and from it. These events pose a direct or indirect challenge to their health, safety, and well-being.
Sadly, workplace violence is all too common nowadays, and it happens in pretty much any industry or sector. However, healthcare staff is targeted more than other workers, with 75% of almost 25,000 annual workplace assaults happening in healthcare settings.
Who’s Behind the Extreme Violence Against Healthcare Workers?
One of the worst parts about workplace violence is that usually, there isn’t just one perpetrator we should look into. In the healthcare sector, violence can be incited by:
- Total strangers, i.e., people who have no association with the staff or the workplace
- Patients themselves, or their families and friends
- Employees, both former and current
- People who have a personal relationship with the staff but not the workplace (husbands, wives, etc.)
Since emotions run high in healthcare settings, it’s definitely not a surprise to see that patients and their families and friends are behind most attacks. Stress and fear lead to aggression and agitation, which ultimately cause people to lash out at medical staff. Moreover, patients may be under the influence of various medications that alter their decision-making capacity to the point of inspiring extreme reactions.
Frequency of Assaults and Their Alarming Consequences
As fear and stress are the main culprits here, the frequency of assaults against healthcare workers is staggering. Some say that they happen every day or even during every shift. Since the assaults can vary from swearing and spitting on a person to full-blown physical attacks that require restraint, it’s easy to see why healthcare professionals worry about their safety.
The Violence Affects Us All in the End
Both patients and the staff suffer the consequences of these assaults. Unable to cope with the injuries sustained due to the assaults, healthcare workers may not do their jobs properly. This causes patients to suffer and could very well influence their health in the future.
And then, there’s the question of burnout and lowered morale. Nobody wants to go to work every day fearing for their own safety. Getting insults daily definitely doesn’t do much for a worker’s confidence, nor does it help them do their job well. Plus, the perpetrators often threaten to come back and do even more harm. Would you be willing to come back to work in that case, knowing full well you might not get out of the building alive next time?
This evident reduction in the quality of life causes healthcare workers to consider other choices. They slowly start noticing that they aren’t getting the support they need to feel safe at their jobs. Thus, they do the only thing that makes sense in that situation — they move to outpatient care or seek out special surgery centers, clinics, and other institutions that don’t come with life-threatening hazards. They pick the easy way out, and rightfully so.
Less brave individuals, however, stay behind. They ultimately accept the violence as a part of the job and try to learn to live with it. But ignoring the issue doesn’t work. At some point, lines will be crossed, and tragedy will occur.
The Future May Become Brighter Soon Enough
Violence against healthcare workers keeps growing due to the lack of support and respect for the workers themselves. Some never report the attacks. Even when they do, the management does little to help prevent them from occurring again.
This has, sadly, led to patients believing that it’s OK to treat healthcare workers as less than human. Workers then basically have to accept it. They must get on with their jobs so as not to stigmatize patients or, worse, face disciplinary actions by their management.
But the tide is turning for healthcare professionals now. One of the newest developments is the passing of the Workplace Violence Prevention for Health Care and Social Service Workers Act. The legislation should require the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to tackle the problem head-on by issuing a standard for healthcare and social services employers. Essentially, OSHA will have to develop and implement a prevention plan to protect personnel, who are, according to reports, five times more likely to suffer a serious injury at the job than other professions.
As a result of years of effort, this bill ought to change US healthcare forever. Among other things, it should finally increase the safety of those who help us when we need it the most.