June is National Safety Month. While many people associate this observance with OSHA regulations and the manufacturing industry, the nursing profession should not be forgotten. In early 2022, nearly 50% of all nurses surveyed by National Nurses United reported an increase in workplace violence against nurses, a statistical increase from the three months prior. It is not hard to comprehend why a third of nurses are looking to leave the profession altogether, as reported by the IntelyCare Research Group report, “Solving the Shortage.”
For a first-person perspective on what we can do to support nurses during National Safety Month, we checked in with Janice Maloof-Tomaso, Director Clinical Quality and Compliance, from our IntelyCare Quality Assurance Team. She recounts her own experience with workplace violence and what she sees as a potential solution to close the gap on violence against nurses, something that she has seen rise since the beginning of the pandemic.
Janice Maloof-Tomaso, MSN, RN, NEA-BC
I started out my nursing career at Massachusetts General Hospital in 2004 with a focus on Emergency Room nursing. While this work was and always will be important, I couldn’t keep away from teaching. I decided to pursue a second job as a clinical and classroom nurse instructor. Due in part to my love for coaching and teaching, I eventually moved into nurse leadership in 2012. With eight years of nursing, and another 10 of nursing leadership under my belt, I am no stranger to safety in the workplace.
My First Experience with a Violent Patient
My first real lesson in safety came while I was new to working in the ER at Mass General and EMS brought in a disruptive patient. The team warned us that the patient was exhibiting all of the red flags that we were to be aware of when it comes to safety, but I didn’t fully comprehend what their warning meant and wasn’t prepared for what came next.
The patient was handcuffed, so I didn’t feel threatened when I Ieaned over to start their IV. Seemingly out of nowhere, the patient kicked me in the clavicle! Thankfully I suffered only minor injuries, but I ended up in a heap on the floor and learned a valuable lesson. I realized that there are many safety issues facing nurses in healthcare, beyond anything clinical we may come in contact with.
Workplace violence as it relates to those caring for patients is a serious concern. Healthcare workers need to be properly educated on how to de-escalate dangerous situations and how to handle patients who exhibit violent or out-of-control behavior. For example, the patient that kicked me was young, alert, and aware of their act of violence. A scenario like that must be approached differently than the way one might handle a situation with a patient suffering from dementia or delirium, who is not in control of what they are doing. However, both scenarios have serious safety implications for the patient care team and should be viewed equally in that sense.
Don’t Let Violence Against Nurses Be The Norm
One of the most challenging parts of safety and workplace violence in healthcare is the feeling that this abuse is part of the job. If you ever speak to a nurse that has been verbally or physically assaulted and ask them if they reported it, the answer is usually, “No, this happens all the time,” or “This is our normal.”
When I was the director for the Emergency Room Department at Tufts Medical Center, we ran a comparison report on workplace violence. The results showed that nurses and doctors were only reporting 38% of the violence they experienced from patients and patient family members. That number tells me that we need to educate each other about workplace violence and not allow ourselves to be desensitized to it. It is not, in fact, “part of the job,” nor is it normal. Healthcare professionals and leaders need to provide education for bedside caregivers to handle these cases in their own unique ways and to report it.
I worked through four COVID-19 surges and saw firsthand during that time that violence against nurses is only getting worse. It is unsurprising that many nurses are leaving the profession; no one should have to tolerate abuse in the workplace, especially when stress levels are already sky high.
Workplace violence is a variable that we can work to control. If we face it head on with education and support, we might be able to curb its effects on the mass exodus from the nursing profession that we are seeing today.
Education Is Necessary to Make Improvements
I am a firm believer that education is the biggest tool we have and that we can be proactive and prepared as beside caregivers for dealing with dementia, delirium, intentional violence against nurses, and mental health behaviors. This will help us create a safer system and workplace.
IntelyCare provides a resource to do just that. IntelyEdu provides continuing education courses and trainings for nurses in post-acute care. It is free for IntelyPros, and available to any nursing professional anywhere at competitive low rates. IntelyEdu’s offerings give nurses a place to grow, develop their skills, and build confidence.
My background in education is what brought me to IntelyCare. I started as a writer for IntelyEdu. I believe safety, risk, and quality go hand in hand, so when a role opened up on the Quality Assurance and Re-Education Team, I was thrilled to sign on. The dedication to Quality Assurance is what sets IntelyCare apart. This role is critical for our IntelyPros, the patients they care for, and our clients. It is also a critical component to building a safer workplace.