ER nurses see increase in assaults, health care CEO says

Published: Aug. 19, 2021 at 12:59 PM EDT
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KYTV) - A hospital president says his emergency room nurses are reporting an increase in physical and verbal assaults.

CoxHealth President and CEO Steve Edwards tweeted on Wednesday that more nurses at his hospitals are being attacked on the job, KYTV-TV reported.

Edwards said those who work in healthcare are four times more likely to face workplace violence than in other jobs. A study he cited from the New England Journal of Medicine found that in the past year, 82% of emergency room nurses were victims of physical assault and 100% of them were verbally assaulted while at work.

CoxHealth ER nurse Natalie Higgins said nurses are verbally assaulted daily on the job.

“It’s terrifying,” Higgins said. “It’s like you want to go home to your family and you think as a nurse you don’t have to worry about that. But we do have to worry about that every day we come in.”

The past year, Higgins said, it’s only gotten worse and that long ER wait times have played a role in that.

Higgins said sometimes the violence turns physical.

“The first time I got verbally attacked by a patient, I was like ‘Oh, my gosh.’ Like I expected it, but not to the extent we see it every day,” Higgins said. “... Like the first time someone lunges at you, even still today, when they lunge at you, it’s terrifying.”

Edwards said that’s why the hospital installed panic buttons on staff ID badges. Those panic buttons notify security and the entire ER where that nurse is and that they need help.

Another nurse Becky Fleming said they go through de-escalation and safety training every year.

“Try to stay calm,” Fleming said. “For them to stay calm, use the right verbiage and things like that. Place yourself as safe as you can in the room. Always knowing where your back is, what’s behind you, that kind of thing.”

Edwards said 80% of the assaults are coming from patients.

“The people we take care of aren’t well,” Edwards said. “You can imagine that people suffering from addictions or suffering from mental health issues or even other elements, may temporarily become violent.”

Edwards said the hospital will prosecute anyone who assaults the staff.

“Our organization is inclined to prosecute every one of them,” Edwards said. “Historically a nurse would have to put her name or his name on that prosecution and they felt vulnerable to do that.”

New Missouri law allows nurses who press charges to remain anonymous.

“You don’t feel like someone is going to be hunting you down to find out where you live,” Fleming said.

The hospital has also put two trained dogs into service, one at Cox North Hospital and one at Cox South Hospital. Those dogs are used to de-escalate situations.

“If need to, they can attack,” Edwards said. “We haven’t had to do that because I think most people understand the threat of a dog.”

Higgins said if a patient with a history of violence comes in, their chart is immediately flagged.

“Instead of just one person going in, we’ll take two staff in just in case so we feel more comfortable,” Higgins said.

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