Mitigating Workplace Violence

Mitigating Workplace Violence

Modern technology is able to help hospitals manage safety

In January, nurse practitioner Carlie Beaudin was beaten to death in a parking garage at the Milwaukee-area hospital where she worked to save lives. The incident captured national headlines, not only for the brutal nature of the attack but also because it was caught on a live surveillance feed no one was watching. Following her death, nurses and other workers at Carlie’s hospital said they had long worried about their safety, which was often jeopardized by working late shifts and being forced to park in poorly lit garages and faraway lots—none of which had security staff.

This tragedy is just one of many recent examples that point to a major challenge faced by hospitals and healthcare organizations today: keeping employees safe. It’s a challenge that organizations across all industries face, but it is particularly complicated for hospitals. They operate 24/7, often across distributed campuses and with a transient population of patients and visitors.

Addressing safety and security issues is, of course, not a new issue for hospitals. To ensure continual patient care and remain compliant with regulations, hospitals have well-documented security protocols and deploy technology to ensure those can be executed smoothly, from cybersecurity solutions on the digital side to video surveillance and door scanners, among other tools, on premises.

But many of these solutions weren’t developed with an eye toward workplace violence and safety concerns that are now such a pressing issue. These measures also overlooked the problems faced by employees outside the walls of the main facility, including those of visiting nurses, case workers or other staff members who report to satellite sites or treat patients at their homes.

Understanding the Risks in the Hospital Environment

Although the healthcare sector makes up just 9 percent of the overall U.S. workforce, it experiences nearly as many violent injuries as all other industries combined, according to a Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) report.

And those injuries aren’t caused merely from slips and falls or other mishaps. Injuries caused by workplace violence in the healthcare industry have skyrocketed, growing 110 percent in private hospitals over the course of a decade, the BLS said.

This increase can be attributed to several key factors, including longer wait times for patients seeking treatment, budget cuts resulting in fewer security staff, funding cuts for preventative mental health services, psychiatric patients going to emergency rooms for treatment and legislative changes that affect when law enforcement bring people in custody to the hospital. For example, The Joint Commission found that patients in police custody within a healthcare setting are involved in 29 percent of shootings in emergency departments.

While the statistics are grim, the bright spot for those tasked with addressing security issues is that modern technology can help.

Ensuring Clear Communication Before and During an Incident

Long before an unruly patient lashes out at a doctor or an active shooter enters an open door, the best way hospitals can secure the premise and protect their employees is to have an emergency plan for workplace violence.

While most hospitals have done considerable work creating, communicating and exercising emergency plans in response to catastrophic events and terrorist attacks, less has been done to address issues of workplace violence.

For example, 31 percent of healthcare workers surveyed in Rave Mobile Safety’s Workplace Safety and Preparedness Survey weren’t aware of emergency plans for workplace violence. Moreover, the survey found that 32 percent ran workplace violence drills once a year, and 33 percent never ran them, despite 29 percent of emergency managers and other supervisors citing workplace violence as one of their biggest safety concerns.

Clearly communicating how to address scenarios is an important start, but hospitals cannot stop there. When an incident does occur, communication plays a major role in limiting its negative impact.

While mass notification systems have long been used to communicate to employees in these scenarios, many hospitals are upgrading to modern systems with more robust capabilities. Security personnel and other administrators can send emergency notifications through text, email, voice, desktop alerts and digital signage simultaneously and in the method that best fits the emergency.

These notifications can also be segmented and tailored to ensure only the right people receive the relevant information, limiting alert fatigue. The most innovative systems take these benefits a step further by creating a two-way communication channel.

For example, in an emergency, an automated poll could be sent through SMS text, email and voice to determine where workers are located and if they are safe. As a preventative tool, select systems also allow security staff and nurses, for example, to discuss a situation and share information before an act occurs.

Empowering Employees with Personal Security Tools

While hospital leaders have a duty to secure the work environment and keep staff safe, employees can also take an active role in ensuring their own and their colleagues’ safety. Employee safety apps literally put the ability to address safety issues into the hands of hospital employees.

These apps often include an emergency call button that can quickly and directly connect an employee to hospital security staff when an incident occurs. For other urgent situations, employees can use the apps to discreetly submit two-way tips anonymously, such as witnessing a sexual harassment incident.

Beyond their use as a response to incidents, employee safety apps can also be used for prevention. For example, a nurse walking to a remote parking lot after a late shift could use an employee safety app to keep in contact with hospital security through a virtual escort.

With the right mix of technology, the risk and impact of workplace violence in hospitals can be mitigated on their grounds and in whatever settings their employees deliver care. This is critical in ensuring the safety and security of staff never impedes their primary mission of delivering care and saving lives.

This article originally appeared in the September 2019 issue of Security Today.

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