In a recent episode of the Lighting Your Way podcast, we addressed the prevalence of violence against nurses in the workplace.

While aggressive behavior on airplanes and on highways has recently made the news, it has been happening in healthcare facilities all over the country. Patients have been cursing, yelling, grabbing, pushing and verbally threatening to kill nurses for as long as I can remember. “That kind of stuff happens all the time,” said one of my friends who has worked in the ER for more than 20 years.

With incivility in our society on the rise, it is perhaps not surprising that we are seeing more violence in the workplace, and hospitals are not immune.

But, enough is enough.

In this issue of The Flame, we share some information on violence against nurses because, yes, it DOES happen.

By the time you read this it will be SUMMER! Happy Summer!

— Betty Long, RN, MHA, President/CEO, Guardian Nurses Health Advocates



Violence Against Nurses

Let’s be honest. Violence against health care workers has reached epidemic proportions. According to a study from the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA), health care workers account for approximately 50% of all victims of workplace violence.

Workers in health care settings are 4X more likely to be assaulted than workers in private industry, according to the Joint Commission (JCAHO), an organization that accredits U.S. health care organizations. Alarmingly, JCAHO suggests that the actual number of violent incidents is likely much higher because reporting is voluntary.

Nurses often bear the brunt of that physical violence since they’re on the front lines, the ones who interact most with patients and their families. While many assaults don’t cause serious injuries, some nurses have gotten broken bones, black eyes, and other injuries. In rare cases, nurses have been killed. Doctors are attacked as well, but according to statistics from the Emergency Nurses Association (ENA), less so than nurses. Among emergency doctors, 47% reported having been physically assaulted on the job, compared to 70% of emergency nurses.

For some nurses, workplace violence has risen during the pandemic. Early in the pandemic, fewer people were visiting ERs, and those who did were often very sick, leading to a drop in violent incidents. But that changed as the months wore on and ERs and hospitals began filling up again. However, violence does not only happen in the ER. It happens in nursing homes, in ICUs, in med-surg units, in outpatient clinics. Everywhere. After all, healthcare is a reflection of our society.

In November 2020, National Nurses United surveyed 15,000 registered nurses across the U.S. and found that 20% reported increased workplace violence. The report attributed the increase to changes in patient populations, decreased staffing levels, and definitely, visitor restrictions. Not only did some family members become abusive over visitor restrictions to curb new infections, but some balked at mandatory masking. That led to nurses policing visitors and again bearing the brunt of their frustrations about the health care system.

The time is more than ripe to find adequate solutions to this issue, as continued violence in the healthcare workplace will likely add to the already impending burnout and shortage crisis that nurses are currently facing. As one nursing colleague said, “I don’t go to work to get swung at or get threatened or cursed out. After a while, it takes its toll.”

If you’re not a nurse, what can you do?