With workplace violence on the rise, some health systems are hiring experts to address it

Amid increased calls to address workplace violence, some health systems are hiring personnel specifically to focus on the issue. The directors often oversee areas of the organization related to safety and security.  

Take Chicago-based UI Health, which is recruiting for a director of hospital safety and workplace violence prevention. 

The new role brings safety and security functions under the purview of one person; previously those responsibilities were overseen by various individuals, from clinical safety to general security, Nick Haubach, chief administrative officer of UI Health, told Becker's

"With the creation of this role, we have the potential to strategically align safety initiatives across the entire hospital," he said. 

A dangerous trend

Hospitals like UI Health are looking at these types of roles as workplace violence has climbed during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Nine in 10 healthcare workers have seen or experienced violence in the workplace, according to a survey released in May by employee insight platform Perceptyx. And the American Hospital Association and other provider groups are urging Congress to enact a bill to protect healthcare workers from violence that is modeled after protections for aircraft and airport workers.

River Meisinger, vice president of executive search with AMN Healthcare/B.E. Smith, views security and workplace violence prevention as interwoven issues.

For that reason, leaders with experience in security or with a law enforcement background might be sought by health systems looking for someone to oversee workplace violence prevention efforts, he said.

Mr. Meisinger said these leaders sometimes also take on emergency preparedness and focus on ensuring the organization is prepared for events such as mass shootings.  

"It isn't always that case," he added. "But being able to put the health system in a place of preparedness at all times is the primary responsibility of this specific leader."

Building 'from the point of care up'

At UI Health, Mr. Haubach said a key part of the director role will be to coordinate with campus partners. 

"Because UI Health is part of the University of Illinois Chicago, this structure is appealing to us because it creates a standard pathway for engaging with university-provided services, such as police and facilities, for example," he said. 

Mr. Haubach said the director will also partner with hospital safety committees, such as the organization's workplace violence prevention subcommittee. 

"Violence against healthcare workers is a serious issue across healthcare, and at UI Health, we think that building workplace violence prevention into the foundation of this position ensures this is a lens through which we can continually evaluate and improve all of our safety standards, protocols and initiatives," he said.

UI Health is not alone.

In spring 2022, Advocate Aurora, a health system with dual headquarters in Milwaukee and Downers Grove, Ill., also began searching for a workplace violence prevention director to work with the security team. It hopes to fill the position this month. 

"What we're looking for in our director is someone who has had specific, tailored expertise in threat assessments, threat management and then leveraging technology, analysis, investigations, to have better mitigation programs against those four populations or categories of risks," Randy Stephan, vice president of security at Advocate Aurora, told Becker's

The four types of workplace violence, as described by the CDC, are criminal intent, client-on-worker violence, worker-on-worker violence and personal relationship violence. A workplace violence director, Mr. Stephan said, would have to understand how to mitigate risks for these categories. 

A workplace violence prevention director may also work across individual functional areas to create coherent solutions. 

"If your team doesn't have a single person to unify and work across those different functional areas, to eliminate gaps, or as a positive, create better processes and handoffs so that you don't have fragmentation, [it can be difficult to create] unity of effort," Mr. Stephan said. 

The director at Advocate Aurora will work with site-based workplace violence committees and teams, which already exist at the system, that are multifunctional and include members from risk and safety, human resources, patient experience and public safety. The director would then bring their experience in workplace violence prevention tactics to unite these teams that may not otherwise have specific training in a given area.

"What I realized is that for this program to be effective, we have to build it from the point of care up and not build it from [the security] office down," Mr. Stephan said. 

As more health systems increase their focus on employee wellness and employee engagement, Mr. Meisinger said he sees the potential for other organizations to make a director role part of their workplace violence prevention efforts. 

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