Pandemic Tensions Fueling Rise in Healthcare Workplace Violence

By Dan Hounsell, Senior Editor, Facility Market
September 3, 2021

The rising numbers of patients entering hospitals with cases of COVID-19 not only are creating greater risk to healthcare workers due to potential infection. They also are leading to greater instances of healthcare workplace violence.

Consider the conditions in Texas, where hospital workers and health care officials say incidents of violence against staff have been rising in number and intensity this summer as tensions boil during the delta-fueled fourth surge in COVID-19 hospitalizations, according to The Texas Tribune.

Staff have been cursed at, screamed at, threatened with bodily harm and had knives pulled on them. One-half of all Texas nurses reported verbal and physical abuse at work in 2016, which is the last year Texas health officials surveyed them about it.

But the pandemic has exacerbated the stress that can escalate into threats and violence, as people are now contending with not just the virus but also job loss and other stresses, said Karen Garvey, vice president of patient safety and clinical risk management at Parkland Health & Hospital System in Dallas.

Visitors and patients assaulting hospital staff was an epidemic before the pandemic, Garvey says, adding that it was just silent to the public. Health care workers have been dealing with this for years, and it’s become more pronounced with the COVID pandemic.

The pandemic-related rise in tensions across the U.S. is not unique to the hospital industry. Airlines are reporting an increase in aggressive passengers as flight attendants take self-defense classes. Police are reporting an increase in violent crime and road rage incidents.

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