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Virginia Nurses Share Personal Stories in Videos Highlighting the Growing Problem of Workplace Violence Against Health Care Professionals

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From the VA Hospital & Healthcare Association (VHHA):

Virginia Nurses Share Personal Stories in Videos Highlighting the Growing Problem of Workplace Violence Against Health Care Professionals

New Videos Are Being Released During June in Recognition of the Annual Hospitals Against Violence Initiative on Combating Workplace and Community Violence, Which is also Being Addressed Through VHHA Foundation-Supported Hospital-based Violence Intervention Collaborative Programs That Serve Patients Impacted by Violence

RICHMOND, VA – The beginning of June marks the annual Hospitals Against Violence initiative focused on identifying strategies to combat workplace and community violence.

In recognition of that, the Virginia Hospital & Healthcare Association (VHHA) is releasing a series of videos featuring the stories of hospital nurses from Central VirginiaNorthern Virginia, and Southwest Virginia  who have firsthand experience with workplace violence in clinical settings. The raw, emotional stories shared in these videos are not isolated incidents. The sad reality is that hospital team members and other health care professionals face a heightened risk of workplace violence greater than workers in other industries. The videos are intended to educate the public about the growing prevalence of workplace violence in health care settings, appropriate behavior in clinical settings, and how the disruption of workplace violence impacts other patients’ ability to access timely care.

“Visiting a hospital during a medical emergency can be a stressful time for patients and families. It is understandable if people in that situation feel nervous, anxious, or worried. That’s a natural human reaction,” said VHHA President and CEO Sean T. Connaughton. “But in those circumstances, it is critical for people not to let those unsettling feelings override their better judgement by assaulting or threatening health care professionals who are just doing their jobs and trying to care for patients in need. Violence against health care professionals is a growing problem that disproportionately affects clinicians who face a higher risk of being assaulted in the workplace than workers in other professions. Committing or threatening violence against health care practitioners is against the law in Virginia. It also disrupts health care facility operations and can lead to delays in care for other patients with time-sensitive medical needs. These videos are being shared to remind people to treat clinical staff with respect. Doing so enables hospitals and health care staff to do their jobs and care for patients. The message from hospitals to the public is simple – ‘Help Us, Help You’ by behaving appropriately in health care settings.”

June is also National Gun Violence Awareness Month and here in Virginia hospitals are leading efforts to address community violence and serve patients impacted by it through the Hospital-based Violence Intervention Program (HVIP) Collaborative, a  VHHA Foundation -supported initiative now in its fifth year in the Commonwealth. This state and federally funded program facilitated by the Foundation is a first-of-its-kind statewide approach to the implementation of these evidence-based programs, which provide support to survivors of serious violence and their families during and after hospitalization. Since 2019, HVIP programs operating at hospitals around Virginia have served nearly 5,200 patients impacted by community and intimate partner violence. The re-injury rate among those patients is just 2 percent, compared to a national re-injury rate of 40 percent for people impacted by community violence. These impressive results are helping improve lives and save money with more than $38 million in estimated health care costs avoided as a result of HVIP work.

Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares has praised HVIPs as one piece of a broader effort to address community violence: “I’ve always said that there isn’t a one-size fits all solution to combatting violent crime. Real, sustainable results will come from increased communication between law enforcement, government officials, first responders, and community organizations. Virginia’s Hospital-based Violence Intervention Programs are a critical component of our Operation Ceasefire strategy to reduce violent crime in our communities.”

The workplace violence video campaign evolved from the work of the VHHA Chief Nursing Officer/Nurse Leader Forum to establish acceptable behavioral expectations for patients and families in clinical settings and to support bedside de-escalation training protocols for situations when patients or families lash out. Situations involving unruly, disruptive, and violent patients or family members have become all too common in health care settings. Data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) shows that of the nearly 21,000 private sector workers who “experienced trauma from nonfatal workplace violence in 2019,” 70 percent worked in the health care and social assistance sector. BLS data also shows that the incidence rate of violence against health care workers has been on the rise since 2011. And those numbers may not reflect the true scope of the issue, with the U.S. Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) noting that while health care “accounts for nearly as many serious violent injuries as all other industries combined . . . many more assaults or threats go unreported.”

Other research affirms the prevalence of workplace violence against health care professionals. Surveys conducted by the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) and the Emergency Nurses Association indicate that almost half of emergency physicians report being physically assaulted at work, while about 70 percent of emergency nurses report being hit and kicked on the job. A 2021 study published in the Annals of Emergency Medicine found that “78 percent of all health care workers experienced a violent assault in the prior 12 months, including more than one in five (22 percent) emergency physician residents. Eighty-nine percent of residents experienced verbal assault by a patient in the prior 12 months, compared to 80 percent of other health care workers.” And a 2022 survey conducted by Incredible Health found that 65 percent of “nurses surveyed reported that they had been verbally or physically assaulted by a patient or a patient’s family member within the last year.”

To address these conditions, Virginia hospitals, nurses, and other health care partners successfully worked with the Virginia General Assembly in 2019 to strengthen protections for health care workers performing their job  by making it a class 1 misdemeanor to threaten to kill or harm them while they are rendering care in a hospital, emergency department, or other clinical facility. That law has been updated since then, most recently earlier this year to extend protections to providers rendering care in all health care settings . Updates to the law take effect July 1, 2023. In March 2020, VHHA launched a Workplace Safety Task Force charged with determining a baseline measurement for statewide employee injuries, identifying and monitoring potential opportunities for improvement, and establishing best practice recommendations. The ongoing Task Force work includes a dedicated subgroup focused on workplace violence. In recognition of National Workplace Violence Awareness Month, VHHA in April 2022 shared with its members a comprehensive Workplace Violence Prevention Toolkit with information about applicable state laws, background information on the topic, and detailed guidelines to support organizations in developing, implementing, evaluating, and sustaining workplace violence prevention programs.

On the federal level, the Safety from Violence for Healthcare Employees (SAVE) Act is legislation that has been introduced in Congress to give hospital staff enhanced legal protection against workplace assault and intimidation.

About VHHA: The Virginia Hospital & Healthcare Association is an alliance of 110 hospitals and 25 health delivery systems that develops and advocates for sound health care policy in the Commonwealth. Its mission is to achieve excellence in both health care and health to make Virginia the healthiest state in the nation. Its vision is through collaboration with members and stakeholders, to ensure the sustainability of Virginia health care system, transform the delivery of care to promote lower costs and high value across the continuum of care, and to improve health for all Virginians. Connect with VHHA through Facebook , TwitterInstagramTikTok , LinkedIn, and YouTube.

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