Let's end workplace violence

July 10, 2017 | by Mary Lou Mastro

Hospitals aren’t always quiet, serene places. All too often violence within hospital walls is reported in the media—and it is a serious wake up call for all of us.

Emotion often runs high. Tension can be thick. Mix in an illness or medication that affects a patient’s behavior and you have the proper conditions for a potentially serious situation.

When I worked in an intensive care unit as a nurse, we’d have patients who’d be punching or kicking. It never occurred to me to report that. It just seemed like part of the job.

But it shouldn’t be. We want our staff to report aggressive or violent behaviors so we can design interventions to keep people safer. Our goal is to create an environment that is welcoming and comfortable for visitors—and at the same time, we don’t want employees to feel they need to tolerate violent behavior. Ever.

From our staff experiences at Edward, Elmhurst and Linden Oaks hospitals, it appears both patients and visitors have been more aggressive than in the past. It’s a small minority that is verbally abusive and, at times, physically abusive.

In January 2016, Edward-Elmhurst Health organized a Workplace Violence Committee with representatives from a variety of departments as well as Naperville police.

This spring, both Edward Hospital and Elmhurst Hospital walked through emergency active shooter drills to see how a worst-case scenario could play out, and to practice what we would do to stay safe.

You can’t address the issue of violence with a blanket intervention. It’s important to determine the root cause—maybe a pathology of a particular disease (such as dementia), or perhaps a drug reaction—before you can decide on a plan of action.

We also have to be careful that we don’t connect violence with mental illness. More often than not, people with mental illness are the victims of violence, rather than the perpetrators.

That is why our Workplace Violence Committee developed strategies and interventions for identifying and managing the phases of violence. They also developed algorithms for managing behavioral events. We are committed to providing our staff with the necessary education and tools to address violent behaviors.

At Edward-Elmhurst Health, we’ve really dug in to the topic, particularly on crisis intervention and how to address someone who escalates a situation. This is an area where staff can support each other. Help others speak up, watch each other’s backs.

The bottom line is we don’t expect our employees to be the victims of violence.

We’re doing our best to make our hospitals places of safety, comfort, inspiration and healing for patients, visitors and employees.

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