Health Care’s Growing Epidemic: Violence in the Workplace

Do you feel safe at work? Do you know what to do if confronted by someone violent? Does your hospital have a comprehensive plan for dealing with violence?

As a health care provider, did you ever think you would need to know the answers to those questions?

With workplace violence escalating in health care institutions across the country, being prepared to manage all disruptive scenarios, ranging from angry outbursts to active shooters, has never been so important.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than 23,000 significant injuries from assaults occur at work; 70 percent of those assaults are in health care and social service settings.

In fact, health care and social service workers are four times more likely to be injured by workplace violence than the average private sector employee.

Recently, IHA’s Council on Workforce Development, along with the Indiana Society for Healthcare Human Resources Administration and the Indiana Society of Healthcare Risk Management, sponsored the Aug. 11 Workplace Violence Conference, Prevention and Management of Violence in the Workplace. After opening remarks by IHA President Doug Leonard, State Senator Michael Crider from Indiana District 28 addressed the industry challenges. The keynote speaker of the program was Dr. Lynn Van Male, director of the U.S. Veterans Health Administration’s Workplace Violence Prevention Program. Using her extensive experience in working to prevent violence in health care settings, Dr. Van Male led the participants in exploring the steps necessary for creating a comprehensive hospital program that keeps workers safe, including behavioral risk assessment, incident definition and reporting. Referring to a “Pathway to Violence,” Dr. Van Male educated members on identifying and reporting potentially dangerous behaviors before they escalate out of control.

Jay Dotson, owner and senior consultant of Fortress Preparedness Services, also presented at the conference. As a 30-year veteran of hospital security, workplace violence educator and active shooter response trainer, Dotson has experienced the escalation of violence in health care settings firsthand. He has worked with several Indiana hospitals to help make their facilities more secure, their employees more aware and their violence prevention programs more robust.

“Up until a handful of years ago, our biggest focus in health care was making sure patients felt comfortable and welcome in hospitals,” Dotson says. “We didn’t have to think about the violence. But our industry is changing dramatically. Four years ago, maybe 30 percent of hospitals had an Active Shooter Plan. Now it’s closer to 70 or 80 percent.” Dotson attributes the violence to a number of factors, including increased opiate abuse and a strained supply of mental health services for at-risk patients and families.

The conference concluded with more than 100 participants discussing next steps in the continuing effort to keep workers safe. More information about the program content and tools presented can be requested by contacting Laura Gilbert at lgilbert@IHAconnect.org.