The Surge in Violence at American Hospitals Underlines Why Health Care is Among the Most Dangerous Industries in the Nation

by Michael Nguyen
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fokus keyword: hospital violence

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Last month, a hospital in Oregon buzzed with warnings that a visitor was causing disruptions in the maternity ward, with concerns that he might try to snatch his partner’s newborn baby.

Tragically, the situation escalated into violence when the visitor shot and killed a security guard, forcing patients, nurses, and doctors to take cover.

The incident at Legacy Good Samaritan Medical Center in Portland is part of a growing trend of gun violence across U.S. medical facilities. This alarming development has placed immense challenges on the industry as it tries to respond to these mounting threats.

These frequent attacks have led to the alarming statistic that health care in the U.S. is one of the most perilous fields to work in. American health care workers suffer from more nonfatal injuries due to workplace violence than any other professionals, even law enforcement.

Former police officer Michael D’Angelo, who now works as a security consultant in Florida, has stated that working in health care is statistically four or five times riskier than any other profession in terms of actual violence, although other sectors may surpass it in overall danger, including fatalities.

Gun violence has become an all-too-common occurrence in hospitals around the country. From a double homicide in Dallas to shootings in Atlanta, Tulsa, and Dallas again, these tragic events have become almost routine.

But gun violence isn’t the only concern. In 2018, health care workers accounted for 73% of all nonfatal workplace violence injuries, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The July 22 shooting in Portland saw precautions taken beforehand, with warnings about a potential child abduction attempt. A nurse, who spoke anonymously for fear of retaliation, detailed the events and the anxiety that led up to the shooting, including a 911 call made 15 minutes prior to the incident.

Police were on the scene quickly, but it was too late to prevent the death of Bobby Smallwood, a security guard, and injury to another employee. The shooter fled the scene, only to be killed by police later.

Legacy Health, while not commenting on the ongoing investigation, has outlined plans to enhance security measures, including additional metal detectors, bag searches, controlled entrances, and more equipment for security officers.

Around 40 states have strengthened laws against violence targeting health care workers, with some even allowing hospitals to form their own police forces. This has sparked concerns about potential exacerbation of existing inequalities and lack of transparency.

Deborah Burger, the president of National Nurses United, highlights the underlying problems of a dysfunctional health care system that contributes to violence, such as patient frustration over costs, limited options, and long waiting times.

The increase in patient-to-nurse ratios also plays a role in fostering violence. Staff shortages often mean nurses can’t effectively de-escalate aggressive behavior, leading to a “catastrophic formula” for increased violence, as pointed out by D’Angelo.

Further compounding the issue, some hospital administrators prioritize patient satisfaction over staff safety due to financial considerations tied to reimbursement rates.

Eric Sean Clay, the president-elect of the International Association for Healthcare Security & Safety, admits that the statistics on workplace violence in healthcare might be “grossly underreported.” He attributes this to a tolerance among caregivers who may view it as part of their job.

Some security measures, such as armed officers, can be controversial, and there are concerns over how long-lasting promised safety improvements will be due to costs.

For those working in hospitals, the fear and somberness following a violent event like a “code silver” can be profound. A nurse at the Portland hospital emphasized the need to change the narrative around vulnerability, highlighting the stark reality of life-threatening situations as the true vulnerability.

In conclusion, the ongoing wave of violence in American hospitals emphasizes the dangerous nature of the health care field and calls for an urgent reassessment of safety measures, security protocols, and the underlying issues that may contribute to this disturbing trend.

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