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Hospitals Cracking Down on Violence Against Healthcare Workers

Some patients will yell, swear and in some cases threaten healthcare providers — a recent legislation would create stiffer penalties for offenders

By Stefan Yablonski

A hospital should be a place of healing, health and hope. However, there have been increasing reports of violence — targeting the healthcare workers and other staff.

In October, representatives from several Central New York hospitals held a joint news conference to announce a crackdown on violent acts — by patients or visitors — in their facilities.

Hospitals leaders vowed to remove anyone who acted violently toward a worker. And they will seek criminal charges where appropriate.

Health care workers have been physically assaulted and received death threats.

“Yes, we have certainly seen an increase in threatening behavior both in the office as well as over the phone,” said Tricia Peter-Clark, CEO of ConnextCare. “This has been felt at all levels from the front desk to myself as I tend to speak to patients when they do not like the response my other leaders have given.”

“Nationwide, we see changes in courtesy and behavior that affect many services, including healthcare,” agreed Michael Backus, CEO of Oswego Health. “For our vital workforce in Central New York — who are dedicated to keeping people safe and healthy — this is especially concerning. It is heartbreaking that some of the most valued and needed jobs are undermined and even harmed by the actions, truly, of the few.”

Oswego Health is coming together with other CNY regional hospitals and clinical organizations to increase support for the respect and safety for all members of the healthcare workforce, Backus added.

“Together, we are committed to reducing the negative effect of those who do not show respect — and even endanger our hospitals and health systems staff. This initiative is called ‘Respect and Heal.’”

Some patients will yell, swear and in some cases threaten the staff, making them increasingly concerned for their personal and family safety, Peter-Clark said.

“We have modified some of our internal protocols to increase the staff’s sense of security and awareness,” she added.

The entire leadership team at Oswego Health is committed to shining a light on this behavior and to making continued improvements, Backus said.

“We stand alongside our 1300-plus employees as we have zero tolerance for workplace violence or a threat of any kind,” he said. “Together we are united for a shared purpose of healing. We are also united for a shared purpose of respect and safety.”

“There has been a lot of information and sharing at the state and national level about workplace violence in healthcare, in particular to patient and visitor aggression towards healthcare workers,” said Leslie DiStefano, director of communication and public relations at Samaritan Medical Center in Watertown.

Samaritan is actively engaged and is now formally tracking these types of incidents “so that we contribute and make necessary changes to protect our staff, patients and visitors,” DiStefano said.

Iroquois Healthcare Association is asking for this data so that healthcare entities in New York state can work together to determine trends and tactics to help address the concerns, she added.

There is no federal law that protects health care workers. That could soon change.

In September, senators Joe Manchin, D-W.Va. and Marco Rubio R-Fla., introduced the bipartisan Safety from Violence for Healthcare Employees (SAVE) Act. The legislation would give health care workers similar protections against assault to those that flight crews and airport workers have by criminalizing such behavior under federal law.

The SAVE Act would protect healthcare workers from violence by creating new criminal penalties for acts of intentional assault.

The Senate bill is similar to H.R. 2584, which was introduced by Reps. Larry Bucshon, R-Ind., and Madeleine Dean, D-Pa., in April.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the rate of injuries from violent attacks against medical professionals grew by 63% from 2011 to 2018, while hospital safety directors say that aggression against staff has escalated since COVID-19 intensified in 2020. In the second quarter of 2022, more than two nursing personnel were assaulted every hour, equating to 57 assaults per day, 1,739 assaults per month and 5,217 assaults per quarter.



A national day of awareness to end violence — June 7, 2024 — #HAVhope Friday.

#HAVhope is a national day of awareness to highlight how America’s hospitals and health systems combat violence in their workplaces and communities.

On June 7, the eighth annual Hospitals Against Violence #HAVhope Friday, hospitals and health systems continue working toward partnerships, innovations and creative thinking to foster peace and make a safer environment for workers and patients.

The public is invited to share using #HAVhope what your hospital or health system is doing in this effort.