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Violence Against Health Care Workers on the Rise


According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, workplace violence is more likely to occur among employees who handle money in a public setting, delivery drivers, public service workers, law enforcement personnel, those who work alone or in small groups, and healthcare professionals. Healthcare professionals are four times more likely to be injured because of violent and aggressive behavior by others. Emergency room workers, psychiatric staff, long-term care and nursing home staff are most vulnerable.

Nurses and other healthcare professionals are increasingly at risk from acts of violence, and hospitals and state governments are taking steps to protect employees. California and New York have criminal penalties for those convicted of assaulting health care workers. Many states have laws rewiring hospitals to develop plans to improve workplace safety for employees.

Recent incidents of violence against nurses and other healthcare workers include:

  • A patient at a hospital in the suburban Twin Cities assaulted four nurses with part of his hospital bed – a metal bar. One of the nurses suffered a collapsed lung as a result of the attack.
  • Early this year a patient stomped on a nurses head multiple times, leaving her with brain damage. at Brookdale Hospital in New York. OSHA later cited the hospital for failing to protect workers, naming 40 incidents of patient violence between February 7 and April 12 alone.

Incidents like these, reported on an insurance industry website, have inspired nurses unions and others to lobby states to establish more in-depth safety guidelines that will define workplace violence more specifically and increase the types of violence that are to be included in such guidelines. For example, groups in California are seeking to have psychological trauma included in the guidelines.

Why is this seeming epidemic of workplace violence occurring now? The answer appears to be more dementia patients and more mentally ill patients who seek treatment in hospitals. Another factor in some locations is the lack of beds and resulting long waits for mentally ill patients, who might become frustrated and angry, lashing out against hospital staff. Whatever the reason, the incident in Minnesota described above was not an isolated one; in the first nine months of this year, 46 workers compensation claims were filed by nurses who had been assaulted, in hospitals, far more than the 299 claims filed in the entire previous year.

Although it is possible to measure the uptick in violence against nurses in Minnesota, it is commonly understood that assaults on hospital workers are underreported because nurses and others feel that they are trained to handle verbal and physical abuse from unstable patients. Moreover, they feel sorry for these patients. The result is that only the most grievous assaults, possibly those that caused injuries, are reported.

If you or a loved one was injured because of violence in a medical workplace in New York, call the attorneys at Block O’Toole & Murphy at 212-736-5300. Free consultation.