Nursing jobs – it’s often a thankless, as well as a dangerous, position. For example, in an Auburn Alabama emergency room department in 2005, Tammy Mathews was working her evening Sunday shift where she encountered a patient who was both high on drugs and drunk. The patient grabbed her neck and chocked her until she was unable to breath. After that, she was spat on… in her face.
In a Seattle emergency department (ED) in 2007, Jeaxu Rinehart was working when a patient, who was situated in the triage room, became upset that he was unable to get methadone. In retaliation, he pulled out a Billy club from his backpack and hit Rinehart in the head and across his face, shattering his cheekbone.
It didn’t surprise Rinehart or Mathews when a poll of 7,200 emergency room nurses found that ED violence is significantly high, even with a high amount of attention being paid to the problem that have left many health problems – doctors, physician’s assistants and those in nursing jobs – worried about the workplace threat.
51-year-old Rinehart, who is Washington State Emergency Nurses Association president, said the problem is epidemic, worldwide and getting increasingly worse.
The national Emergency Nurses Association figures shows that between January 2010 and January 2011, over half of ED nurses – 53.4 percent – have reported some kind of verbal abuse with another 13 percent of nurses saying they’ve experienced physical violence.
Those working in nursing jobs say it’s common to be physically assaulted – grabbed or pulled at – with verbal attacks coming in the form of swearing and yelling.
A continuing 2009 survey revealed a similar rate. It was conducted every three-months in hopes that the problem was getting better. According to the Des Plaines, Ill., association president AnnMarie Papa, the problem wasn’t getting any better.
Papa said she’s upset that the culture has not yet changed to say it’s not okay to do this to folks who are there to help them.
Nurses, like 49-year-old Mathews, say the violence stems from the long waits, increasing number of mentally ill patients and crowded conditions. Mathews said it happens because tempers flare.
Rinehart and Mathews said they have worked in ED departments for years and said they expect this kind of treatment from both the patients and their families.
Rinehart said he has been called things he couldn’t imagine putting words together with.
In the last few years, the problem has gotten some serious attention. 25 states, so far, have increased the penalties for attacking healthcare workers and many hospitals have trained their staff and increased their physical security measures.
According to Seattle’s Virginia Mason Medical Center spokesman John Gillespie, a new emergency room department last week with enhanced security features along with a number of other amenities.
Still, Papa said, this progress has yet to answer the crisis. She advocates a 100 percent zero-tolerance policy to stop the string of ED violence. According to the survey, just one third of those employed in nursing jobs submit reports about the physical violence and less than 15 percent of them report the verbal assaults. The reason is that in 46.7 percent of the case, no action on the perpetrators was taken. In close to 72 percent of the cases, nurses got no response from the hospital officials regarding the assaults.
Mathews said she filed assault charges against the person who attacked her but the hospital asked her to drop them. When she refused to give into their demands, hospital officials fired her. She is currently employed at another hospital and in the Emergency Department but is still distrustful about the erratic patients.
Rinehart said he moved from the ED to place his attention on patient safety. He said he does miss the department but likes not being called every bad name in the book. Rinehart said he won’t be going back to it.
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