By Mathew Keller, RN JD, MNA Nurse Policy Specialist
As a result of the assault against staff at St. John’s Hospital last November, the hospital removed bedside poles that could be used as weapons. While this action may prevent future violence, it’s too late to help the nurses who were attacked that day.
Meanwhile, there’s a bill in the Minnesota Legislature that could lead to better prevention and preparation for healthcare workers caught with a violent patient. HF 1087 and SF 1071 are bipartisan bills aimed at preventing violence against health care workers, require that hospitals:
- Develop preparedness and incident response action plans in collaboration with health care workers;
- Provide adequate security staff;
- Allow healthcare workers to request additional staff due to concerns over possible violence;
- Provide training to all health care workers on safety guidelines, the incident response plan, how to properly de-escalate situations and request additional staff, and the worker’s rights regarding acts of violence.
In addition, HF 1087/SF 1071 prohibit hospitals from interfering with a healthcare worker’s right to contact law enforcement or the Minnesota Department of Health regarding an act of violence, and establishes an electronic violence prevention database, which will allow the state to track trends in violence against healthcare workers at a hospital level.
The violence against healthcare workers bill could go a long way toward preventing potentially violent or abusive situations we have all experienced as bedside nurses. Furthermore, it will prohibit hospitals from preventing or discouraging nurses from reporting abuse from patients or visitors, which we know is a common problem.
Unfortunately, the Minnesota Hospital Association would rather enact harsher punishments on perpetrators of such violence rather than prevent the violence in the first place.
MHA claims that nurses can already report safety lapses to the Office of Health Facilities Complaints, but this argument displays little understanding of how healthcare workers can interact with state agencies. Both MDH and its commissioner tell MNA that OHFC investigates only complaints against facilities that are violating current law; when a patient assaults a worker, the facility has not violated current law, and therefore a complaint against the facility would fall outside the jurisdiction of OHFC.
The hospital association also claims that the violence prevention bill is a ploy to enable nurses to report safety issues to the Minnesota Department of Health; but as MHA itself stated in a letter dated August 13, 2014, to MNA President Linda Hamilton, they view nurses as statutorily obligated to report unsafe staffing to the Department of Health and state that “allowing hospitals, the Board of Nursing, or the Office of Health Facility Complaints to actually address any legitimate concerns” is of paramount importance. Thus, on one hand MHA views the violence prevention bill as a ploy to enable nurse reporting to MDH, but on the other hand views such reporting as mandatory and of paramount importance.
MHA needs to take a hard look in the mirror and accept some responsibility for a flawed system, which does little to nothing to prevent violence in the healthcare setting, ignores nurses who ask for resources to help prevent a brewing problem from exploding, and discourages nurses from reporting violent or abusive situations to the relevant authorities. Instead of punishing sick and delusional patients even more for their abhorrent actions, let’s prevent them in the first place. Let’s remove the pole before it is used as a weapon.