Why Health System Success Relies on Preventing Violence Against Nurses

As a recently retired system chief nursing and quality officer, I am deeply passionate about championing nursing professionals as the backbone of healthcare delivery. Unfortunately, there is a pervasive threat that directly jeopardizes nurses’ ability to provide the highest quality care possible: workplace violence. With 44% of RNs reporting physical assault and 68% reporting verbal abuse according to the AHA, this mounting crisis must be addressed quickly and completely for the sake of caregiver wellbeing and organizational success at large.

As a nurse myself, I’ve experienced patient situations that escalated quickly and dramatically. As a leader, it wasn’t until we looked at this issue at a systemic level that I realized how pervasive it was and how critical it was that we make it a top priority of our health system. We found reported events of workplace violence became one of the top five categories for our reported safety events — underscoring the clear tie between workplace violence, nurse wellbeing, and patient safety and outcomes.

When nurses’ wellbeing is threatened, health systems move further away from their number one goal of providing the highest quality care possible. That’s why it’s essential that every health system in the country prioritizes workplace violence prevention as a top imperative.

Three Must-Haves for Health Systems to Help Prevent Violence Against Nurses

  1. Leadership buy-in. One study found 92% of healthcare staff experienced or witnessed workplace violence in a one-month span in 2022. Using data like this and sharing stories of the emotional toll on staff is critical to achieving leadership buy-in. Since workforce health is a key factor in providing exceptional care for every health system, workplace violence must be considered “everyone’s issue” — especially at the highest levels. Leadership has the ability to set the strategy, commit, and dedicate necessary resources to help protect the organization.
  1. Clearly defined strategy. Regulatory requirements and a growing number of states have introduced legislation and guidance to protect healthcare workers from workplace violence. Each body focusing on this issue clearly states that a defined workplace violence prevention strategy is necessary. This holistic strategy should be aligned with “culture of safety” best practices, including the essential nature of reporting and data. Health systems need a mechanism to track and analyze incidents of workplace violence so they can take a more targeted approach in their prevention strategy.
  1. Tools that empower staff. Even the best strategy in the world requires the right tools to successfully execute it. The reality is that patient care is extremely dynamic and every patient has individual needs. Too often nurses are isolated by themselves without a way to call for help when they need it. Tools like real-time duress alerting are essential to help staff de-escalate situations before they turn dangerous and alert others when there is an emergency. And with data and reporting capabilities, these tools are highly effective in bolstering any violence prevention strategy.

How Technology Helps to Restore Trust for Caregivers to Do Their Best Work

In retirement, you have the luxury of deciding when and how you go after the things you are passionate about. I was called to nursing in my profession — so it’s inevitable that in my retirement, I’ve been called to focus on nurse wellbeing that will allow them to practice at their best.

The workplace violence epidemic has eroded nurses’ sense of pride — and the overwhelming majority of healthcare executives know this to be true, with 79% of health system leaders reporting a decline in loyalty and tenure among their younger nurses. As a former health system executive myself — and now as a strategic advisor to Commure Strongline, an award-winning staff duress solution — I am proud to have an incredible opportunity to make a tangible impact on the profession of nursing even in my retirement.

I decided to offer my advisory services after seeing the impact of the tool during my time as a Magnet appraiser. We visited a site using the solution, and nurses there told me firsthand how much they felt their organization was invested in their safety and wellbeing. They had a greater sense of trust within their teams, which allowed them to practice more at the top of their license — something all nurses desire.

When nurses are protected by technology that is purpose-built to prevent and de-escalate workplace violence, they feel safe and undistracted to provide the highest quality care for patients.

The Future of Exceptional Care: Violence Against Nurses is Not Part of The Job

Preventing violence against nurses and other staff is foundational to ensuring staff wellbeing and high-quality clinical performance. Health systems that put workplace violence prevention at the top of their priority list will usher in the future of exceptional care, where violence is not the norm or an accepted part of the job. Top health systems will have the leadership, strategy, and tools to help protect staff by empowering them to holistically assess a situation and reduce the amount of events that require de-escalation in the first place.

I’ve found that people who choose healthcare — and specifically nursing — as their career are naturally empathetic and caring, selflessly dedicating their lives to helping others before all else. We owe it to our healthcare workers to prioritize their safety and wellbeing, in turn improving their ability to do their jobs at the highest level possible. Now more than ever, it’s time to take a stand against violence in healthcare for the wellbeing of clinicians and societal wellness as a whole.

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About the Author: Andrea Mazzoccoli recently joined Commure as a strategic advisor to the Commure Strongline staff safety solution after retiring as system chief nurse and quality officer for Bon Secours Mercy Health. She served in nursing leadership roles at BSMH for almost 16 years. Prior to joining Bon Secours, Mazzoccoli served as vice president, patient care services and chief nursing officer at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. Mazzoccoli earned a nursing diploma from the Shadyside School of Nursing, a bachelor of science in nursing from Carlow College, a master of science in nursing and business administration from Duquesne University, and a PhD in nursing from the University of Pittsburgh. She completed a Robert Wood Johnson Fellowship and is a Johnson & Johnson Wharton fellow and a fellow of the American Academy of Nursing. She is currently an adjunct professor at the Bon Secours Memorial College of Nursing, where she teaches quality and safety in nursing, and serves as a Magnet appraiser for the American Nurses Credentialing Center.

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