Written by CriticalArc’s Healthcare Sales Director, Scott Campbell
Healthcare Environments Should be Among the Safest of Places
Anyone who’s ever been treated in a hospital, or who has appreciated quality care given to a close friend or relative, knows that with illness comes a feeling of vulnerability and a need for compassion. This is something I understood from personal experience when I was young, and it has informed my own career choices. Originally, I studied healthcare management, and then went on to various roles delivering IT and location-based services in hospitals; now I’m part of CriticalArc’s team focusing on healthcare.
Throughout my career, I have observed firsthand that medical professionals and the support workers who help them are among the most dedicated of people. So it’s sad that personal safety and security should even have to be considerations in healthcare settings – but, of course, they are. In fact, a healthcare worker at a hospital is six times more likely to experience violence in the workplace than the average US worker, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Workplace Violence On the Rise
These days, every time I meet members of health system leadership I am told that violence, aggression, and verbal abuse are on the increase. Many of the healthcare professionals I talk to believe that character of this aggression is changing too, with an increase in levels of stress and volatility. The reports are not just anecdotal, but backed by data. The 2022 Crime Survey by IAHSS (International Association of Healthcare Safety & Security), found the rate of hospital violent crime increased to a record 2.5 incidents per 100 beds in 2021, which was a 47% increase compared to 2020.
It’s an issue that affects both patients and staff – but I’m focused particularly on staff. That’s not because patients don’t matter, but because it’s front-line clinicians and workers who face the most persistent problem, and because the way that problem is dealt with by the employer (or not), has an impact on patient care. Working day after day, week after week in an environment where you do not feel safe takes its toll. Low level anxiety is something that can build, spread, and affect team morale.
If there are locations within a hospital where one employee doesn’t feel safe – a particular corridor, a public waiting area, a reception desk, or a poorly-lit route to the parking lot – then colleagues will pick up on that, perhaps even without realizing it. Without saying anything, employees may change their behavior to compensate for the perceived higher risk. It only takes one major incident to have a traumatizing effect with lasting consequences, both for the individual involved and for those around them; symptoms can include flashbacks, PTSD etc.
The American Nurses Association estimates that one in four nurses has been assaulted at work, but we should remember that harm is caused not just by physical violence, but threats too. It’s easy to underestimate the impact of verbal aggression. We all have different thresholds, but for many people being threatened, being made to feel scared or angry, leaves a lasting mark. This ultimately impacts patient care. If clinicians are distracted, ill at ease, or under stress, they will not deliver care as effectively. And if problems persist, they may feel the need to take breaks from work, or quit their jobs entirely. At a time when many healthcare providers are struggling to recruit good people, staff wellbeing and retention has become a top priority.
Investing in Staff Safety
So what more can be done by healthcare providers to reduce the impact of workplace violence? One thing I want to highlight, because it’s often underestimated, is the value of investments made that are focused on increasing staff trust and confidence. When it’s made easy for individual employees to request help at the touch of a button, and to get immediate response wherever they are located, I have seen firsthand how this creates a more confident, positive workplace environment. When the same ‘touch of a button’ facility also makes it easy to anonymously report routine concerns, and to get them addressed efficiently – anything from a broken light or a poorly secured door, to bullying, to a colleague who seems troubled about something or is acting out of character – confidence is further enhanced.
For healthcare providers dealing with increased aggression, it’s now possible to respond in new ways, to use better technologies that connect staff more closely with their management teams and first responders. One such example is CriticalArc’s service SafeZone, which offers healthcare systems the ability to offer Safety Everywhere. The technology provides a platform that enables healthcare executives to invest in their people by providing an easy way to protect them, regardless of whether they’re in the emergency room, an adjacent parking garage or doing community home health work.
Through these investments in technology, healthcare systems can avoid dealing with downwards spirals of recruitment and retention pressure and instead, create a more positive, supportive environments where staff feel safe and confident to focus on the most important thing – providing quality care to the patient.
Ultimately that will benefit all of us.