A friend, let’s call her Beth, recently told me she is faced with the risk of violence every day in her job as a registered nurse in a hospital. Agitated patients try to kick, scratch, and punch her as she attends to their needs – not to mention verbal abuse from patients and their loved ones.
“If I was to report every time a patient actually tries to strike out at me or literally tries to claw me or kick me, we’d be drowning in a sea of paperwork,” said Beth, who has worked as a nurse for four years. “There’s huge under-reporting because it’s ‘just part of the job’ – but it shouldn’t be.”
She said the majority of violence comes from patients with dementia, who wouldn’t normally behave that way. Nurses in the psych ward and emergency room also face violence on the job.
“In the ER, they’re dealing with people who are coming in high or stoned or drunk, and the violence that you deal with then is extreme. That’s front line work, but by the time they get to the nursing floors, they’re often a little bit more controllable,” Beth said. “In psych units, you’re dealing with people with mental health issues. Being shop steward – I deal with a lot of the violence issues that go on in our psych ward and it’s just unbelievable.”
Her local health authority is addressing the issue by offering new training in violence prevention.
“In theory, what they’re talking about is great and they’re good skills, especially in a controlled environment, but the reality is, the world that we work in is not a controlled environment and my fear is that they can turn around and say you didn’t follow the curriculum,” Beth said.
Our conversation left me feeling grateful for our health care workers and sorry to think about the abuse they face from patients while trying to help. In most cases, you wouldn’t lay charges against patients who are confused, delirious, afraid, and/or in pain when they strike out because you can’t prove intent to cause harm. It sounds like Beth is saying that all you can do is try to stay safe and have good systems and security to back you up.
Let me know what your experience has been like.
See this video from Care for Those Who Care for You (Violence in Health Care).