'A quiet growing epidemic': Violence against healthcare workers has persisted for years unresolved

Nurses and healthcare workers have been spotlighted as heroes throughout the pandemic, but they've been susceptible to workplace violence and abuse for years with little done to prevent it, a Dec. 10 investigation from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel found. 

Currently, no federal requirement exists for hospitals to have workplace violence prevention plans, despite data showing healthcare workers are five times more likely to be injured by workplace violence than any other private-sector industry, according to the Journal Sentinel. As a result, many hospitals lack basic safety measures like metal detectors and medical chart warnings documenting disruptive patient history.

Moreover, California is the only state required to provide annual security spending reports. Reports from California show that security spending accounts for just 0.5 percent of hospitals' total budget. Across the country, a large portion of hospital system profits are instead allocated toward mergers and acquisitions, updated amenities, and executive salaries. 

Jesse Telford, RN, an emergency department nurse at Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital-Plymouth (Mass.), was attacked and bit in October by a patient with a violent criminal background, he told the Journal Sentinel. Mr. Telford was sent to the ER waiting room to tell the belligerent patient, Michael Carlson, to calm down, or he would be asked to leave. In the absence of security guards or police officers stationed in the ER, Mr. Telford was punched and spit on while he waited for security officials to finally restrain the patient. When Mr. Telford approached Mr. Carlson, he was unaware of the patient's violent history. 

"I'm a nurse," Mr. Telford said. "This isn't what I do. It just keeps happening all the time. I don't know how they get away with not doing anything about it to keep us safe." 

Officials from the hospital told the Journal Sentinel they have since stationed a local police officer in the ER during evening hours. Mr. Telford's story was one of many dramatic hospital workplace attacks and assaults documented in the report. 

Security experts said simple measures, such as installing metal detectors, panic buttons and medical chart alerts, would help reduce such violence. Despite that, many hospital systems often wait until a serious injury or death occurs before they activate more security measures, the investigation found. 

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