I was recently interviewed for an article in Healthcare Finance News about the cost of protecting workers against violence. It came about because of a ANA survey looking safety concerns in the workplace and the report that healthcare facilities are not doing enough to keep nurses safe. While we often think of the hospital, workplace violence can, and does, also occur in nursing homes and ambulatory or private practice settings.
Healthcare worker violence is an issue related to security, which falls under the broader umbrella of hospital safety. From a general standpoint, healthcare security is important, but competing priorities sometimes get in the way of organizations doing more to secure access to the facility or expend additional resources on training. Most hospitals and some other healthcare settings do have security staff. However, security staff can't be everywhere at once and just adding more isn't always the best answer.
The best person to identify when something isn't right (a safety or security risk) in their environment, is the person who works in that environment on a daily basis. The result is that we must rely on employees and others in the organization to notice and report any suspicious behavior and to be more defensive in their contact with patients, families, visitors and even other staff. Unfortunately, as an industry we have tried to create warm and inviting environments for the public and healthcare workers have historically been too caring and trusting.
The risks to employee (and patient) security and safety are continually evolving and expanding. I believe our healthcare organizations must create policy that mandates reporting of any suspicious behavior, threats, and/or violence. But, they should also create a culture where staff feel safe in doing so. Organizations can also do more to educate their employees of the evolving risks and help them gain skills to identify risks and respond to difficult situations.
As it relates to our patients (or their families), they are sicker than they have ever been before and unfortunately the ER is sometimes used as a dumping ground for individuals who belong in other settings. We need to help our staff become better at identifying threatening behavior sooner and support them with response from other clinical or security staff. Our organizations also have to develop strong relationships with law enforcement and other community leaders to address concerns as they arise.
As for the investment cost of security ... it is so much less than poor employee morale, high turnover and absenteeism rates, negative media coverage, investigations, fines, litigation, worker's compensation claims, and higher insurance costs. But, keep in mind that a balanced approach is best.
Another one of my posts that addresses the culture of safety and the CEO's role may also be of interest.