First, came the pandemic: The grueling hours, the death and suffering, the sadness.
Then, came the pandemic-associated anger: The mask mandates, the vaccine mandates, the visitation restrictions.
While workplace violence is nothing new, like many issues it has only been exacerbated by COVID-19. Two years into the pandemic, some reports suggest incidents are rising as patients and family members take out their frustrations on nurses and health care workers.
After two years of mandates and restrictions, much of the public is frustrated and can be quick to lash out at employees who are merely enforcing — not writing — regulations that revolve around hospital visitation and masks. They’re easy targets in a society that is often looking to place easy blame.
In a recent survey from Incredible Health, 65% of nurses said they had been verbally or physically attacked by a patient or patient’s family member in the past year. Nurses attributed that uptick to pandemic restrictions and staffing shortages causing issues like longer wait times.
Even in the eyes of the public, violence has been seen as a contributing factor to nurses leaving the profession and rising levels of burnout, which ultimately has a negative effect on patient care. A new survey found that approximately 70% of Americans believe that if nurses felt safer, they might not be leaving the profession in large numbers.
Consider some other statistics:
- 58% of Americans are worried about nurses and other clinicians being harmed while on hospital property.
- 66% of Americans agree nurses and other front-line health care workers are more likely than those in other professions to be victims of workplace violence, and 69% agree safety is a cause of nurses leaving the profession in large numbers.
- More than half of Americans (57%) say burnout from the past few years plays a role in contributing to health care labor shortages.
- 82% of Americans believe that more state/federal action should be taken to keep health care workers safe.
- Three of four Americans (75%) say that hospitals have an opportunity to improve the safety and security of their facilities.
To bring attention to this growing problem, April has been designated as Workplace Violence Awareness Month, and the American Hospital Association (AHA) has released a number of materials to enhance and support workforce safety. They include resources on Building a Safe Workplace and Community and a toolkit on mitigating violence in health care settings.
As the health care system continues its long, slow climb out of the pandemic, it’s vital that we do all we can to protect our health care workers and support policies that help them feel safe in our hospitals while they care for those in need.