Is Your Hospital Secure?
The recent tragedy in Connecticut has spurred debate on topics related to public safety, which is good. Our most vulnerable citizens need protection. This includes children, the elderly and infirm, and patients in hospitals.
That list includes healthcare workers, too. According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), healthcare workers are at much higher risk for workplace violence than all other private sector industries, including physical assault, rape, attacks using weapons, and homicide. Risk factors include working with volatile people who are under the influence of drugs, working understaffed, overcrowding, long waits for service, lack of security, unrestricted public access, and lack of staff training.
We don’t know how bad the problem is, but what we do know is bad enough. In 2009, there were 660 aggravated assaults and 2,720 simple assaults in hospitals. The Joint Commission estimates hospital violence is on the rise and may be underreported. And a 2010 survey of emergency room nurses reports this: 97.1% of violence is perpetrated by patients and family members, 80.6% happens in patient rooms, and more male (15%) than female nurses (10.3%) report being victims of physical violence.
Laboratory workers are frequently in patient care areas, especially at times of crisis or trauma, and are often mistaken for nurses; anyone in a uniform is fair game. Laboratories are off the beaten path in many hospitals, in less traveled areas or on otherwise empty floors. A lone lab tech on an empty floor with the door unlocked is a sitting duck.
It’s hard to believe, sometimes, that I started a career in an industry housed in sheltered havens for healing the sick. Violent assault seemed rare. I’ve always thought of hospitals as great, safe places to work until recently. Security officers, cameras, lockdowns, and proximity key codes were unheard of in hospitals even a few decades ago. Now they are commonplace. Such is our world, in which our most vulnerable citizens and those who care for them are at ever greater risk.
Take a walk around your hospital today, observe, and answer: is your hospital secure?
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