Nebraska Hospital Association sheds light on violence in healthcare facilities

Two people hug as they are reunited at Memorial High School after being evacuated from the...
Two people hug as they are reunited at Memorial High School after being evacuated from the scene of a shooting at the Natalie Medical Building Wednesday, June 1, 2022. in Tulsa, Okla. Multiple people were shot at a Tulsa medical building on a hospital campus Wednesday.(Ian Maule/Tulsa World via AP)
Published: Jun. 3, 2022 at 4:58 PM CDT|Updated: Jun. 3, 2022 at 6:17 PM CDT
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LINCOLN, Neb. (KOLN) - In response to recent hospital shootings in Oklahoma and Ohio, the Nebraska Hospital Association is taking extra measures to keep staff members and patients safe. Nebraska healthcare officials shared concerns regarding workplace violence in hospitals during a press conference Friday.

A statement was released by NHA President, Jeremy Nordquist, expressing condolences for the victims.

“Bottom line, we have seen enough carnage at our hospitals and clinics, whether from treating countless shooting victims or from caring for coworkers victimized by workplace violence,” said Jeremy Nordquist, NHA President. “Enough is enough. The time is now for meaningful change.”

The hospital officials on the panel related the COVID-19 pandemic to the increase in aggression from patients. Some of the circumstances mentioned included pushback against visitation rules, vaccinations and mask policies.

“Now people walk through the front door and they’re angry,” said Lisa Vail, Vice President of Patient Care Services and System Chief Nursing Officer at Bryan Health. “We’ve actually had our volunteers at the front desk physically assaulted when trying to encourage individuals to put on a proper mask or when we were limiting visitation - really strong reactions to those kinds of things.”

Nordquist said 44% of nurses experienced physical violence during the pandemic and 68% experienced verbal abuse.

At Bryan Health, nearly 60% of 2021 Occupational Safety and Health Administration incidents were related to violence against a healthcare worker.

Aside from COVID-19-related incidents, these attacks included name-calling, excessive profanity, threatening comments or actions, kicking, spitting, biting and sexual harassment. These actions can lead to post-traumatic stress for healthcare workers or cause them to leave the profession altogether.

According to the International Association of Healthcare safety and security, healthcare workers are five times more likely to be a victim of workplace violence than those in other occupations.

To create a safe environment for the public and employees, Nebraska hospitals are putting safety measures in place and providing resources and training for employees.

“It’s really all about creating a culture of safety, and then it’s also about empowering employees to be able to take action,” said Jeff Farmer, system director of Public Safety for Methodist Health System in the Omaha area. “From a security standpoint, what I like to try to do is just have my officers just be another tool in the toolbelt of our clinical staff and other employees as well when it comes to these instances.”

While physical and verbal violence can affect all parties, Farmer said 95% of the assaults within Methodist Health involve a patient directing negative actions toward a staff member.

To combat violence in healthcare facilities, Nebraska hospitals are focusing on policies, support systems, internal resources, behavioral health, chaplain services and employee assistance programs. Farmer also emphasized the need to educate and train workers in crisis prevention.

At Great Plains Health in North Platte, employees in the emergency room use devices called “code gray buttons” for in-patient units, according to Alex Wilkerson, emergency room clinical director. When the button is pressed, security is notified of any disturbances. The Great Plains ER also has bullet proof facilities, 24/7 surveillance and motion-activated cameras.

Nicole Thorell, the chief nursing officer for Lexington Regional Health Center, said violence against healthcare workers is not just an urban problem. Violence happens in hospitals across the state, and it involves employees who are not nurses, such as workers who register patients and distribute hospital bills.

“We understand that you are stressed and tired, and we want to be here to help,” Thorell said. “Instead of being angry about a bill or mad about having to wear a mask or taking out your stressors that really have nothing to do with us, we ask that you practice grace, share with us your situation, let us know what is causing you that stress, and allow us the ability to help you and take care of you as we have and always will.”

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