Hospitalists could hardly be faulted for wondering: Am I safe? After all, the inpatient setting can be a tense place, and it’s where hospitalists work day in and day out.
David Pressel, MD, PhD, FHM, a pediatric hospitalist and medical director of inpatient services at Nemours Children’s Health System, which has locations in Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Florida, says it’s no wonder violence can erupt in the hospital setting.
“Violence is an issue in hospitals that is a reflection of our society, unfortunately,” says Dr. Pressel, a member of Team Hospitalist. “And it happens because these are very stressful places where people’s behavior can get outside the norm given the stress of the problems.”
Dr. Pressel, in collaboration with many others, has developed a workplace violence prevention program at Nemours aimed at de-escalating situations to avoid physical violence. The program teaches providers how to respond when something violent does happen. It’s a tiered training regimen that involves more training for those most involved in handling violent situations.
Dr. Pressel is no stranger to violence himself. Although he is a pediatric hospitalist and his patients are younger, some adolescent patients can have the physical presence of adults and pose just as serious a threat. He said that before the training program was put into place about a year ago, an episode of violence every month or two would require a patient to be placed in restraints.
“Staff has been hurt,” he explains. “I’ve been bitten twice by a patient. I have a scar on my arm that will be with me for life from one episode.”
A Slow, Disheartening, Upward Trend
Whether violence in hospitals and medical facilities is really a growing problem—or whether awareness of the issue is simply greater given these recent, high profile incidents—is not entirely known.
But according to the latest figures available from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), provided by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), violent incidents in hospitals did appear to be on the rise through 2013. The number of hospital assaults rose from 5,030 in 2011 to 5,500 in 2012 to 5,660 in 2013.
The number of assaults rose across all private sector industries over that span, but the percentage of those assaults that occurred in hospitals grew greater during that time—an indication that hospitals might be getting more violent at a faster pace than other workplaces. In 2011, according to BLS data, 21.4% of all assaults in private sector industries occurred in hospitals. That number rose to 21.8% in 2012 and to 22.1% in 2013.
According to the 2014 Healthcare Crime Survey, published by the International Association for Healthcare Security and Safety (IAHSS)—an organization of hospital security officials and administrators—violent crime at U.S. facilities rose from two incidents per 100 beds in 2012 to 2.5 incidents per 100 beds in 2013. That category includes murder, rape, aggravated assault, and robbery.
Assaults rose from 10.7 incidents per 100 beds in 2012 to 11.1 incidents per 100 beds in 2013.
BLS data also show that more injuries in hospitals are due to assaults compared with the private sector overall. In 2011, 2.6% of all private sector injuries were due to assault; in 2012, the number rose to 2.8%; and, in 2013, it was 2.8%. In hospitals in 2011, 8.6% of all injuries resulted from assaults. That percentage rose to 9.5% in 2012 and to 9.8% in 2013.
“BLS data show that nonfatal injuries due to violence are greater in the healthcare/social assistance setting than in other workplaces,” an OSHA spokesperson says. “Assaults represent a serious safety and health hazard within healthcare, and data indicate that hospitals comprise a large percentage of workplace assaults.”