Increase in violence against healthcare workers, state lawmakers say

by Tim Darnell | Sep 23, 2021 | Capitol Beat Press Service

ATLANTA – A veteran nurse allegedly attacked by an abusive patient was one of several speakers Thursday before a state Senate study committee formed to examine violence against healthcare workers.

“I was assaulted by a patient who had assaulted one of our technicians before,” said a nurse who identified only as Destiny. “As I was trying to defuse the situation, the patient threw herself at me, grabbed my hair and twisted it in her hands. I received several punches and kicks; I was bitten; and she tried to drag me into the bathroom.

Destiny, who works at the Northeast Georgia Health System’s Braselton site, said it took five nurses and three security guards to restrain the patient. She said she had suffered a back injury, multiple scratches and bruises, and weeks of headaches and anxiety as a court date approached.

“I have been asked several times, am I sure I want to press charges,” she said. “The patient and her family have asked for my home address, and now they know where I am. I work 12 and 2 hour shifts and have a son and daughter who are sometimes alone at home.

“We are here to take care of the patients,” she said. “We are not here to be hurt. ”

According to a study by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, healthcare workers account for about 50% of all victims of workplace violence.

But Deborah Bailey, executive director of government affairs at Northeast Georgia Medical Center, told the committee that 75% of all workplace assaults in the United States involve healthcare workers.

“Only 30% of nurses and 26% of doctors actually report these incidents,” Bailey said. “Violent altercations are so common now that most employees see them as part of their daily work. ”

Workers in healthcare facilities are four times more likely to be assaulted than workers in the private sector, according to the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations.

“Alarmingly, the actual number of violent incidents involving healthcare workers is likely much higher because reporting is voluntary,” the commission said.

Kevin August, a veteran former police officer and FBI official and now director of security at Grady Memorial Hospital, said any legislation regarding attacks on healthcare workers must come with enforcement powers.

“Training and more staff are imperative, but if the police don’t enforce the laws and judges don’t punish them, this problem will never be solved,” he said.

Lindsey Caulfield, director of marketing and experience at Grady, said healthcare is the fastest growing industry in the country and health and social service workers are five times more likely to sustain violent injuries on the job than other workers.

“Eighty percent of these workplace violence incidents in healthcare facilities are due to the patient over provider,” Caulfield said.

Anna Adams of the Georgia Hospital Association (GHA) said increasing cases of violence are occurring statewide, not just in the metro Atlanta area.

“The pandemic has highlighted our severe labor shortage,” she said. “These types of attacks are often covered by workers’ compensation, and figures show that 22% of these claims are filed due to injuries inflicted by a patient, a patient’s family member or a colleague. “

Dr Kathleen Toomey, Georgia Department of Public Health commissioner, said stress from the pandemic, coupled with easy access to social media, is also a factor.

“A nurse who was involved in an attack had her home address posted on social media, where the public was asked to harass her,” Toomey said. “At a mobile vaccination site in northern Georgia, staff were heckled and intimidated to such an extent that they were forced to close the site. ”

Adams said a GHA survey shows that most Georgian hospitals see violence against healthcare workers from patients with mental illnesses or patients with behavioral health problems.

State lawmakers passed a resolution creating the study committee earlier this year. Its mission is to address the problem of violence against health workers in the state.

This story is available through a partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.

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