Acts of violence within hospitals and other healthcare facilities have steadily risen over the last few years. While some placed the blame on heightened emotions throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, but as cases go down and restrictions ease, these crimes have only increased.
According to a study released by The Joint Commission last year, healthcare workers are four times more likely to fall victim to verbal or physical abuse than workers in any other industry. Though, that number could be even higher as many incidents often go unreported.
A recent study by Critical Care Medicine found that 25 percent of healthcare workers were willing to quit their jobs because of the ongoing abuse. Over 70 percent of respondents said that they had experienced violence over the last year, with the most common act being verbal abuse. Meanwhile, 39 percent of respondents reported physical abuse, such as slapping or punching.
Already crippled by the ongoing labor shortage, hospitals and other healthcare facilities believe they can better retain more employees by reducing the number of violent incidents.
For example, Southwestern Vermont Healthcare has created a new policy that is widely posted throughout its campus prohibiting acts of abuse against its employees. While the Massachusetts Health & Hospital Association (MHA)’s Board of Trustees endorsed the United Code of Conduct Principles, which include measures to promote a safe and respectful environment, examples of what potential violations look like, proposed consequences for the violations and recommendations for maintaining the principles long term.
The ongoing violence has been noticed by lawmakers. This month, Georgia Governor Brian Kemp signed a law that boosts criminal penalties for assaults against hospital workers and allows healthcare facilities to create independent police forces, NPR reports.
Georgia isn’t the first state to criminalize violence against healthcare workers. Last year, Wisconsin passed a law that would make it a class H felony to threaten a healthcare worker. Violators could face up to three years in prison, plus three years of extended supervision, up to a $10,000 fine or both.
While the laws address patients who become violent, interventions are still relatively new to these spaces. According to NPR, critics of the bill are worried that by having hospital police forces will only further escalate violent acts, prompting unintended side effects.
Hospitals and other healthcare facilities can’t turn away patients who misbehave. Rep. Matt Reeves said that the dedicated police force will help hospitals better train officers to work in a healthcare setting. NPR reports that officers can get to know staff members and understand the layout and protocols of the campus.
NPR reports that there is still limited data on whether or not police forces are effective at preventing hospital violence. According to a study from Johns Hopkins University, 23 percent of emergency department shootings from 2000 to 2011 occurred when the perpetrator took a gun from the security officer.
At the time of reporting, the Georgia law doesn’t require hospital police to arrest patients with outstanding warrants for events that occurred off a hospital campus, NPR reports.
“Healthcare workers are under more pressure than at any time in history, and violence will never be a part of their job description,” Steve Walsh, President & CEO of MHA said in a press release. “Hospital and health system leaders recognize this, and are doing everything in their power to mitigate unacceptable behavior in their facilities. But they cannot do it without the help and support of community members. This effort is about taking a stand for the wellbeing of caregivers in a way that every one of us can control.”
Mackenna Moralez is the associate editor for the facilities market.