Across the U.S.,many doctors, nurses and other health care workers have remained silent about what is being called an epidemic of violence against them.
The violent outbursts come from patients and patients’ families. And for years, it has been considered part of the job.
When you visit the Cleveland Clinic emergency department these days — whether as a patient, family member or friend — a large sign directs you toward a metal detector.
An officer inspects all bags and then instructs you to walk through the metal detector. In some cases, a metal wand is used — even on patients who come in on stretchers. Cleveland Clinic officials say they confiscate thousands of weapons like knives, pepper spray and guns each year. The metal detectors were installed in response to what CEO Tom Mihaljevic is calling an epidemic.
“There is a very fundamental problem in U.S. health care that very few people speak about,” he says, “and that’s the violence against health care workers. Daily — literally, daily — we are exposed to violent outbursts, in particular in emergency rooms.”
Many health care workers say the physical and verbal abuse comes primarily from patients, some of whom are disoriented because of illness or from medication. Sometimes nurses and doctors are abused by family members who are on edge because their loved one is so ill.
Cleveland Clinic also has introduced other safety measures — such as wireless panic buttons incorporated into ID badges and more safety cameras and plainclothes officers in ERs.
But these incidents aren’t limited to emergency rooms.
Allysha Shin works as a registered nurse in neuroscience intensive care at the University of Southern California’s Keck Hospital in Los Angeles. One of the most violent incidents she has experienced happened when she was caring for a patient who was bleeding inside her brain.
The woman had already lashed out at other staff, so she had been tied to the bed, Shin said. She broke free of the restraints and then kicked and punched Shin in the chest — before throwing a punch at her face.