As we begin to move past the pandemic, healthcare organizations across the country are facing a new epidemic: workplace violence. Physical and verbal abuse, harassment, and intimidation against clinicians and staff have reached crisis levels, posing significant threats to their safety and well-being.
In certain sectors, such as law enforcement, the risk of violence seems to inherently come with the territory. Healthcare isn’t often thought of as one of them — yet, prior to the pandemic, nurses and nurses’ aides were assaulted more than police officers and prison guards. And a recent study revealed that 9 in 10 healthcare workers had witnessed or experienced workplace violence in a one-month period alone.
Now more than ever before, a reactive approach to workplace violence is no longer a feasible option — it’s critical that hospitals and health systems take swift and proactive action. By following a proven four-step playbook, health organizations can codify a proactive and cross-functional healthcare workplace safety program that mitigates violence, protects people, and, in turn, improves healthcare for us all.
1. Assess: Create a Team of Workplace Safety Champions
In the fight to stop workplace violence, measurable progress can only be achieved through collaborative buy-in from across the organization. Health organizations should start by identifying and supporting internal champions across all relevant departments; this includes nurses, physicians, direct clinical care staff, IT personnel, security and safety officers, and administrative staff.
By bringing together a cross-functional team of interdisciplinary experts, health organizations can better assess the current state of workplace violence across specific units and facilities. It’s also critical to involve executives and senior leaders in these early stages. Without input, investment, and expertise from the top down, any workplace violence prevention program is likely to fall short of institutional goals.
2. Aim: Establish Baseline and Define Objectives
One of the biggest challenges in addressing workplace violence is separating the reported and unreported incidents — and then fully understanding the scope of each. Once the team has been assembled, obtain a clear baseline of both reported and unreported incidents of violence to develop a data-driven workplace violence prevention program.
This baseline study or assessment should evaluate the current state of workplace violence over a predetermined period of time, tracking the number and frequency of total events as well as variations by day and time, patient cohort, and rooms, units, and departments. The workplace violence prevention team can then use this evidence-backed assessment to aim at and prioritize initial targets for reduction.
3. Solve: Brainstorm and Develop Solutions
With the baseline established and key targets identified, organizations can begin developing strategies for solving the problem of workplace violence. Teams should first catalog an uncensored list of strategies, considering both tried-and-truth methods as well as out-of-the-box thinking. Then, narrow the list and select one or several solutions to start with that are attainable and sustainable.
It’s important to keep in mind the tradeoffs of these decisions in order to maintain a multipronged approach. For example, organizations should ensure that they have the human and technical resources required to back the support strategies, and that they include a balance of physical (e.g., mobile security system), emotional (e.g., safety-specific huddles), and organizational (e.g., safety-related benefits) components. When in doubt, refer back to the original idea list to explore and iterate on additional strategies.
4. Execute: Implement and Refine
With the right team, the right metrics, and the right strategies in place, health organizations can begin to execute on their workforce violence prevention program. In addition to the above steps, key components of the action plan should include:
- Finalizing and implementing an agreed-upon phased approach to roll out the workplace violence prevention program
- Reviewing the reporting process to measure and adjust healthcare workplace safety goals over time
- Evaluating appropriate interventions, policies, and standards to reduce the number of workplace violence incidents
Finally, consider the people involved and their unique roles. Set up team members for success by providing clarity on who does what, how, by when, and — most importantly — why. The greatest outcomes occur when all stakeholders understand the reason for their actions and the broader impact they have on their colleagues, their patients, and the organization as a whole.
There may be no single solution to end workplace violence for good — but, through actions both big and small, we can still enact meaningful change. By establishing comprehensive healthcare workplace safety strategies, organizations can operate as a united front to combat violence and restore “care” into the healthcare environment for all clinicians, staff, and caregivers.