Nurses Say Violent Assaults Against Healthcare Workers Are a Silent Epidemic
By Lee Nelson
With only six months on the job as a registered nurse, Angela Simpson got hit hard on the top of her head by an agitated dementia patient. His IV had stopped which hurt him, and she was trying to help him.
“It shocked me, so I jumped back. He was on his way to punch me a second time,” the Maryland nurse says. But she was able to avoid another hit. “It was so alarming and so unnatural. But I felt like I had gone through some christening experience, and I was no longer the new girl,” she says. She considered herself lucky because she walked away with a bump on her head.
In healthcare, there remains a big cloak of secrecy over workers defending themselves from abusive patients and never reporting the incidents. After hearing too many sad and horrific stories of nurses, doctors and others getting hurt, maimed or killed in their jobs, Simpson founded in 2017 and serves as national director of the not-for-profit Silent No More Foundation.
According to the American Nurses Association, 1 out of 4 nurses are assaulted on the job.
She has been building the organization with a growing number of members on the Silent No More Foundation Facebook page and an affiliated Facebook Group Page for more private interaction. Anyone interested can join one or both.
She has gained very committed volunteers who are lobbying state legislators to get more protection laws. She also inspired thousands of interested people to contact their House representatives during the organization’s National Call-In Day July 10.
Healthcare workers need more protections and a change in culture
Simpson’s husband works as a corrections officer. She is a registered nurse with a tablet and a stethoscope.
“It is more likely that I will be hurt on the job by an assault than him. He gets to use pepper spray and has a bullet-proof vest, and he has others to back him up. He has the right to defend himself,” she says.
Healthcare workers continually become the subjects of patients, family members or inmates’ rage, confusion or anxiety. Studies show over and over again that violence against healthcare workers has become a rising epidemic.
Violence Against Nurses Higher Than Most Professions
The prevalence of workplace violence in health care remains higher than most professions.
- According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), approximately 75 percent of nearly 25,000 workplace assaults reported annually in health care and social service settings.
- The National Crime Victimization Survey showed health care workers have a 20 percent higher chance of being the victim of workplace violence than other workers.
- The American College of Emergency Physicians reported that 70 percent of emergency physicians have reported acts of violence against them, yet only 3 percent pressed charges.
“So many people don’t want to talk about it. They think they will be in trouble if they talk at work about being assaulted,” Angela says.
In healthcare, workers provide the safety and care for the patients. But they end up in a conflicted situation. They have to decide if they are going to protect themselves or their patients in certain violent situations, Simpson says.
Nurses feel like it is just part of the job to deal with abusive language, threats and the violence. But patients showing signs of agitation or aggression should be identified as high-risk to prevent an act of violence, she explains.
Some of these healthcare workers who become victims of violence actually get accused by their employers for doing something wrong, Simpson adds. Many times, they get disciplined or even fired.
“The first thing they need to do as nurses is to understand that violence is not part of the job. We need a severe culture change,” she explains.
This is Why Angela Started The Silent No More Organization
A tragic story of a nurse in an Illinois hospital became the catalyst for Simpson to create Silent No More Foundation. The nurse was raped and beaten for hours inside the hospital by an inmate in a hostage situation before SWAT team fatally shot him. He should have been shackled to the bed. But he wasn’t and managed to take the gun from a security guard.
“It was just a blip on the news. You hardly heard about it,” she says. “This has to stop. We can’t be quiet about this anymore.”
Simpson feels many people just feel that violence against them as healthcare workers is part of the job.
“That is so wrong. If something happens to you at work that would be otherwise intolerable if it happened to you on the street such as someone groping you, you would contact the police,” she states.
But she has heard from many people who state that some healthcare facilities won’t allow their employees to file a report or call the police.
She hopes her organization will see things happen by fighting safety in the workplace through advocacy, prevention, legislation and education.
Six steps nurses should take after being attacked
Simpson points out that nurses and others need to be able to protect themselves if they feel their life is in danger. Here are her suggestions if you are threatened:
- Try to escape - If you can’t escape, yell loud enough to get help.
- Create a barrier - Put something between that person assaulting you and yourself so you might be able to escape.
- Defend yourself - You can defend yourself. You are allowed to meet the attacker with equal force to get them to stop. Some people don’t know that.
- Report the incident - Notify your facility of the assault.
- Take a leave of absence - Many people will be nervous to go back to work after an incident. If you are struggling emotionally about the trauma, people need to begin to realize that trauma and anxiety are legitimate reasons to get a leave of absence. Don’t rush back to work if you aren’t ready.
- Get support and seek help - Surround yourself with people that you trust. Consider getting trauma counseling.
“Nurses aren’t very good at taking care of themselves,” she says. But this is something very serious that needs to be handled with care and understanding.
How Help End Violence Against Healthcare Workers
By joining organizations such groups as Silent No More Foundation and their activities, the public can get the word out even faster than just those in healthcare. She also encourages everyone to reach out to their state representatives to demand better laws protecting healthcare workers, Simpson says.
Simpson’s group is currently working on legislation, on a state-by-state basis to obtain basic legal protections for those in the healthcare professions.
The legislature proposed the following,
- Assault against any healthcare workers must be a felony.
- No less than two law enforcement officers must be present with offenders.
- Facilities must provide locator badges with panic buttons for victims to signal for help.
- There must be anti-retaliation protections in place so healthcare workers may receive the same basic rights as any other assault victim – the right to report to law enforcement.
Thousand Of Nurse Share Their Stories On Social Media
By starting Silent No More Foundation on Facebook, Simpson discovered how prominent the problem is everywhere and in all types of health facilities. Healthcare workers in all facets and all states have discussed what has happened to them, how their facilities or hospitals handle assaults, and the feelings of despair and fear remain after such an incident.
While Simpson was speaking recently at a British of Columbia nursing meeting, she asked everyone to stand. Then she asked for those who have been assaulted or been in the room while someone else was assaulted to sit down.
“Only three people in a room of 540 people remained standing and two of them were nursing students. That’s how pervasive it is. It is a big deal, and we don’t tell anybody,” she states.
Image courtesy of Angela Simpson
Nurse.org's Popular Guides and Resources
RN Salaries by State in 2020
Where can nurses make the most? Find out in our list of nurse salaries by state.
Best Gifts for Nurses
Tis the season! Check out our list of the top gifts for nurses.
How to Start Your Healthcare Career Now
Wondering how to get started in healthcare fast? Here are 7 ways.
How to Make the Most Money as a Travel Nurse
Where can nurses make the most? Find out in our list of nurse salaries by state.