Nurses are struggling with workplace violence on a daily basis.

Kicked. Slapped. Punched. Head-butted. Stabbed with pencils. Struck by thrown objects. This is some of the workplace violence documented by nurses between February and March of this year.

The Emergency Nurses Association conducted an early 2024 “pulse-check” of ED nurses to measure the frequency and severity of workplace violence in their facilities. Fifty-six percent documented they were physically or verbally assaulted or threatened with violence at work within the last 30 days. A number that seems to be rising.

“The violence and incivility against emergency nurses and their emergency care team partners – who are in the ED around the clock, every day, ready to care for anyone who enters – is unacceptable,” said ENA President Chris Dellinger MBA, BSN, RN, FAEN. 

Former ENA President Terry Foster, who spent four decades serving in a healthcare setting, described the rise in violence as unprecedented. “It’s something that I’ve never seen before at this level,” he told Chief Healthcare Executive in an interview last summer. “It’s a tremendous problem.” 

This high risk of abuse has many nurses pursuing different career paths. One in ten of the ENA respondents shared they were considering leaving nursing due to the ongoing workplace violence they encounter. 

One nurse shared a recent experience: “The patient threatened to cut my throat and said he would find out where I lived.” Another described angry family members violating the visitor policy: “They were upset and threatened to hurt me when I was done with my shift.”

The violence penetrating our health systems isn’t only worrisome for nurses. Patients and families are also now forced to consider a hospital’s safety record before deciding where to seek help during emergencies. 

In 2022 and 2023 alone, there were mass shootings in multiple hospitals, resulting in twelve deaths and several injuries. One took place in July 2023 in Portland, Oregon. As the event unfolded, threats were levied, leadership notified, and staff warned of a potential “Code Amber.” Despite this, the gunman still managed to shoot and kill a security officer and injure another hospital worker. In the fifteen minutes it took for police to arrive, the assailant fled the scene. He was later found and killed by authorities.

Why is this happening? 

Dellinger describes the problem as one “with complex roots that require resources and responses from many channels.” ENA survey respondents also shared their perspectives, citing contributors ranging from a lack of common consideration to an increase in patients with behavioral health issues. The biggest element to tackle may be the societal acceptance that nurse abuse is “part of the job” despite healthcare workers around the country crying for help. Rick Pollack, President and CEO of the American Hospital Association, refutes this notion. “Violence in health care settings should never be accepted as ‘part of the job,’” he shared in an AHA brief this year. “Attacks and abuse can [interfere] with patient care when providers fear for their personal safety, are distracted by disruptive patients or family members, or are traumatized from prior violent interactions. These types of incidents also consume scarce hospital and health system resources, which in turn impact the care available for other patients”.

How do we stop it?

Pollack and the AHA have made workplace safety a top priority in recent years, encouraging lawmakers to pass the Safety From Violence for Healthcare Employees (SAVE) Act. The bill, which mimics legislative protection for aircraft and airport workers, would strengthen legal penalties for individuals who knowingly and intentionally assault or intimidate hospital employees. But while legislative progress plays one part in a multi-pronged solution, it won’t put an immediate stop to workplace violence for the healthcare workers who so desperately need it. Could stronger facility-led initiatives make a faster impact? 

In recent data collected for the “2024 Vivian Healthcare Workforce Report”, 48 percent of clinicians stated their employer had not implemented safety protocols to protect staff. While almost half of respondents admitted to feeling unsafe at work, that didn’t always correlate to their administration’s handling of violent incidents. Survey respondents were asked to document how their administration handled recent incidents of workplace violence: 

  • 43% said the complaint was ignored
  • 15% said the conflict between the perpetrator and the victim was mediated
  • 12% said the administration sided with the perpetrator, and the victim was reprimanded

Only 17 percent of respondents said their administration protected the victim and conducted a wellness check after the incident, and only 13 percent said better safety protocols were implemented to protect them and their peers.

“While legislation can and will help to discourage intentional violence against healthcare workers, there is still work to be done inside our own facilities,” says Jennifer Schmitz, Vice President, Client Engagement for Engage, a subsidiary of the Emergency Nurses Association, and 2022 ENA President. “Workplace Violence Prevention Committees, comprehensive training programs, and multi-layered safety plans are all contributors to reducing workplace violence. A culture of safety starts with a partnership between leadership and team members and with a commitment on continuous improvement and accountability.”

Can technology help?

In industries outside of healthcare that are also seeing recent spikes in workplace violence, safety-enhancing technology is being rapidly pursued. School districts in communities across the U.S. have stepped up safety measures to protect students and teachers from violent threats. One element making a big difference is wearable duress buttons like CrisisAlert. Providing staff with the ability to call for help – or trigger a lockdown if necessary – is proving to be a safety game changer.

“Workplace safety [is the] number one issue, not only for the schools but also throughout the nation, so this gives an extra level of security for our staff members,” shared Frank Stanage, Human Resources Director for Alamo Heights ISD in Texas.

“We call it a force multiplier,” says Chief John Newman, Director of Safety and Security for Hillsborough County Public Schools in Florida. “Putting this technology in the hands of more than 25,000 employees gives me 25,000 sets of eyes to help keep the campus safe.”

Incident tracking and reporting is another crucial technological role in disrupting the trend of workplace violence. Collecting detailed and accurate data on incidents of workplace violence enables facilities to better report safety metrics to OSHA, JCO, CMS, and more. Additionally, more accessibility to reporting and analytics will allow safety teams to better track incidents and near-miss events and plan corrective action. Through continuous improvement, incidents should assumedly diminish. 

In the event of a campus-wide crisis, blueprint mapping is a key piece of technology that can accelerate response times and ensure help arrives efficiently, prepared, and informed. Retired Police Chief for the Phoenix Police Department, Chief Jeri Williams, explained the importance of blueprint mapping during an emergency. “Mapping is critical because you’ve got to know where to send the resources. If we have real-time information with real-time accuracy, we’re able to get to you faster. Those seconds can make a life or death difference.” 

CENTEGIX is the leader in wearable safety technology, with over nine million people protected and over 375,000 alerts delivered. By partnering with CENTEGIX, you can empower your employees to feel safe while they focus on what they do best – caring for patients. 

See how CENTEGIX works with healthcare organizations and then schedule a demo to see it in action.